Skip to comments.How New York invented Christmas
Posted on 12/23/2007 7:40:24 AM PST by knighthawk
New York has given the country and the world many things in its 380-year history the hot dog, the American musical, the martini, electric signs but who knew it also gave us what the modern world thinks of as the traditional way to celebrate Christmas?
Christmas was originally a combination of the day of worship of the birth of Christ and the Roman winter solstice festival called the Saturnalia. The latter was a very raucous, townwide affair, and its raunchy and riotous ways persisted until nearly modern times.
Then the Puritans outlawed Christmas altogether. When it was revived in 1660, it was a calmer affair, and still celebrated on a community basis.
It was New York City that changed all that, pioneering the family and very child-centered holiday that has since spread around the world. This is not surprising, perhaps, seeing that Santa Claus is New York's patron saint.
No, really. The Dutch ship that brought the first settlers to Manhattan was named for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of old Amsterdam as well as children.
It was long a Dutch tradition for children to get presents on St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6, often put in their shoes or stockings for them to find in the morning. The children of non-Dutch families, noticing how well the Dutch children were making out on Dec. 6, were soon successfully lobbying their parents to give them presents as well.
Often these presents came on Christmas instead of St. Nicholas Day.
Then, around the turn of the 19th century, New York's emerging literary establishment created much of the folklore of the modern Christmas. Washington Irving wrote about St. Nicholas ("Sinterklaes" in one Dutch form of the name, soon anglicized to "Santa Claus"). In Irving's "Diederich Knickerbocker's History of New York," Sinterklaes rode through the skies in a horse and wagon and went down chimneys to deliver presents to children.
In 1821, an American children's book called "The Children's Friend" changed Santa's horse and wagon to a reindeer and sleigh. Then in 1823, Clement Clarke Moore penned the most famous Christmas poem of them all, "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Moore was about as New York as it gets. His family's Manhattan estate had been named for the Chelsea Hospital in London and that then gave its name to the Manhattan neighborhood, which Moore developed. It was Moore who made the number of Santa's reindeer eight and gave them their names.
New York merchants, knowing a good thing when they saw one, began to push the New York tradition of gift-giving, decorating their stores and filling their windows with merchandise designed to catch the eyes of kids. They figured, quite correctly, that the fastest way to a parent's wallet was through their children.
A.T. Stewart, the greatest New York merchant of the time he more or less invented the department store also was a major importer of dry goods and other merchandise from abroad, which he wholesaled to storekeepers in other cities around the country.
At first, there was no single, standard image of Santa Claus. But in the 1860s, the great American political cartoonist Thomas Nast contributed drawings (like the one pictured above) to Harper's Weekly a New York publication, of course that fixed to the present day the image of Santa Claus as a jolly, bearded, fat man in a fur-trimmed cap. Nast often depicted Santa visiting the troops fighting the Civil War.
By the 20th century, the New York-inspired American Christmas traditions were hallowed ones. But New Yorkers kept adding to them anyway. In 1940, Irving Berlin wrote what has become the most popular Christmas song of all time, "White Christmas." Nine years later, Robert May and his New Yorker brother-in-law, the composer Johnny Marks, added a ninth reindeer to Santa's sleigh, Rudolph.
It is, perhaps, a sign of New York City's incomparable multiethnic synergy, which reaches right back to the present-seeking children of Dutch days, that both Marks and Berlin were, of course, Jewish.
Gordon, who grew up in Manhattan, has written several books of history, including "Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power."
That’s a fascinating article. I suppose it was also a New York advertising agency that gave us Santa draped in “Coca-cola red.”
I read the story this AM.
It’s a nice story; I hope that it is read and appreciated as such.
Often, the mention of NYC illicits a certain small degree of animosity, let’s hope that doesn’t happen here.
Yes, Christmas should be first and foremost a religious celebration, and yes, the commercialization of the birth of Christ is wont to be frowned upon. But how we celebrate Christmas is up to each of us undividually, yes?
There is no denying the joy and wonderment on the faces of our children and grandchildren when these iconic images and songs fill the air and the airwaves.
So...thanks New York.
undividually = individually. Oops.
P.S.: Irving Berlin penned at least part of “White Christmas” while sunning himself poolside at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix.
Just the other day someone told that a friend visited from New Zealand, where it's summer now and Santas sweat in their suits. "It's the first time Christmas has seemed real to me," she said. "People are supposed to be bundled up, carolling on the sidewalk."
Yes, there is something uniquely and positively American about New York and about a winter Christmas celebration.
All the more reason to do the semantic ass-kicking on the wimps (yes-it will an easy wupping) who aspire to sanitize our language of Christ.
Oh, brother. This is reminiscent of the Russians claiming they invented everything.
Then tell us please how the modern concept of Santa Claus, the reindeer, the whole secular aspect of Christmas came to be.
Are saying that Christmas didn't exist before NY "invented" it?
Not only what you said, but religious freedom, which gives us the ‘right’ to celebrate Christmas (though presently under attack)was started in the New World in present day NYC 350 years ago this coming Thursday, Dec. 27.
“They figured, quite correctly, that the fastest way to a parent’s wallet was through their children.”
Ah, Merry Christmas all the same.
But something got misinterpreted along the way...
The original Gore story, concocted by right wing conspirators read: Nicholas Gore slayed his way to the top"...
Britain invented modern Christmas, New York invented Santa Claus. There is a difference. The article confuses the issue.
Would you be thinking of the Flushing Remonstrance?
One reason New York City elicits some animosity is that it has long been at the forefront of the radical secularization of this country. And Christmas isn't really much different than any other aspect of life. If you were to walk around New York City today you'd have a hard time convincing yourself that there's anything Christian about this holiday season.
Yep. The Original Chritmas day was more of a festive celebration, mush like Thanksgiving. It was NY that commercialized it and changed the reason for the season into a secular commercialized holiday, with Santa as the focus and greed and abundance of material crap the measure of how great your Christmas will be.
So if you too believe this holiday is being exploted to perverse commercialized levels, protest by please sending all your newly bought Christmas material crap in care of Bommer.....
Charles Dickens gets the credit.
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I try not to determine the spirituality of Christmas by the number of presents I buy.
However, here is one fellow in NY who figured out how to pay for his presents by charging people to come down a ladder in the blizzard of 1888. I guess you could say that New York also invented extortion.
After a long time somebody in the street raised a ladder. It was too short to reach the track. To get on it one had to swing down and grope with his toes for the topmost round, seeing nothing numbed and confused by the elements raging about him and the cold, hustled by other behind and himself crowding others in front in such eager haste on the part of all that the ladder was kept full of descending men for some time.
Then [someone] brought two ladders lashed together and so made long enough to extend above the side wall of the track so that it was comparatively easy of access. He charged twenty-five cents for each descent, by his route, standing at the top of the ladder and collecting from each person, shouting from time to time, "Look out down b'low, don't let the ladder slip." From here.
Never let it be said that all New Yorkers have a heart.
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a terrific New Year!
Let's be fair, he "conceived and took the initiative in creating" Christmas (like Al Gore did to the Internet).
Bagels AND Santa?? Thank you, New York!!
Just kidding. MERRY CHRISTMAS from New Brighton to Tottenville!
Clement Clarke Moore developed Chelsea as a planned community with such innovations as "air shafts" to prevent fires. Of course, the world remembers him for inventing the reindeer and sleigh, but the Friends of Dorothy should venerate him for giving them their neighborhood.
I annoyed Freeper Cacique while we worked on a campaign in Queens back in '02 by pointing out this historic sight everytime we were on Northern Boulevard.
Sorry I’m so later getting back to you. My server was down.
Yup, that was it. I’ve brought this up on other threads in the past and was surprised how few here know about it.
Merry Christmas my FRiend.
The Bowne House...know it well. };^)
Clement Moore has a tie to Elmhurst as well. The playground across Broadway from the phone co. building was the site of his uncle’s farm house where he supposedly wrote “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” I remember an old house, not sure if it was the same one, on the site of todays park. The park and the old P.S. 13 at 94 St. and 55 Ave. were named for him.
“How do you celebrate Christmas on Staten Island? Do you guys decorate the Camaro with lights? “
No, we hang candy canes and tinsel from the clothes lines strung from the back porch to the telephone pole.
And the Camaro’s been replaced by a Cadillac Escalade, all shiny black and chrome-y,lol.
Merry Christmas to you Garden Staters.
Anyway, in the words of Clement Moore "MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!!!"
You too my friend!