An evening candlelight tour at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside home in Tarrytown, NY seemed like the perfect way to kick off the holiday season.
Sunnyside is perched atop the Hudson River, allowing for striking views even on a cold December night. Before the tour, I entered a converted barn where carolers in traditional costumes of the 1800s sang Christmas carols and explained their significance and origin between each song.
My tour group descended down a lantern-lit path to meet a costumed guide, who properly welcomed us to Sunnyside. In each room, a costumed guide provided history and read an excerpt of Irving’s personal letters or writing.
The house was narrow, but festooned with evergreens, holly and lit candles. However, I couldn’t find a Christmas tree. As the guide explained, Christmas trees were a newer tradition in those days and many houses, such as Sunnyside, did not have them. Irving loved Christmas so much that from his ambassador post in Spain, he would instruct his family to meticulously decorate Sunnyside.
Irving never married, instead sharing his home with his extended family. His two nieces resided as the ladies of the house. They tended to daily life, including Christmas dinner. Dishes included breading pudding, mincemeat pie and turkey. A holiday favorite was wassail, a hot punch of mulled cider, sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
In Irving’s study, a box of brightly-colored eraser-like objects seemed out of place. In fact, they were ribbon candy, a common holiday treat in the 1800s. In the living room, a costumed guide played piano and urged us to sing along to Silent Night and Jingle Bells.
Upon exiting Sunnyside, I drank hot apple cider. I stood by the small bonfire. I was finally ready for the Christmas season.
Note: Dress warmly, including hats and gloves, because you do walk outside. Strollers cannot fit inside Sunnyside. Children must walk or parents must carry them.
Christmas Articles from Literary Traveler: