St. Nicholas, Christmas trees and stockings are among the many traditions that originated in mid-19th century New York City.
Every year, millions of people hang stockings by the fireplace and decorate the Christmas tree with lights and ornaments. These are all holiday pastimes people have come to cherish over the years. But many may not realize these traditions have roots in New York City.
Emily Wright is the Communications and Programs Manager for the Merchant's House Museum, which is displaying those traditions from mid-19th century New York. She said even the childhood story of Santa Claus is part of the city's history.
“Beginning of the nineteenth century,” Wright said. “St. Nicholas was considered the patron saint of New York City, harken back to the Dutch origins of the city.”
Christmas trees themselves also have a historic New York connection. According to Wright, German immigrants brought the tradition of putting up a tree to New York City in the early 1800s. When a photo of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria posed beside one circulated in Godey’s Ladies Book later on, trees went on sale and soon became a popular holiday staple.
But some traditions have changed over the years. Wright said children used to hang their own knit stockings near their beds for Santa Claus. Of course, now most children hang special Christmas stockings near a fireplace.
While many of these holiday rituals have changed or died out and while new ones have emerged in recent years, Wright said there's a reason why certain traditions, like decorating the Christmas tree, have stood the test of time.
“Christmas is for children and the childlike,” she said. "I think that traditions that people celebrate in their own childhood, there's something nostalgic about bringing them back year after year.”
The Merchant's House Museum's exhibit, called Christmas Comes to old New York, runs through January 6th.