Christmas Traditions and Celebrations in New York City

New York City and Christmas

Annual Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center

In the very center of The Big Apple, every winter, a traditional, massive evergreen is erected in Rockefeller Center. It commemorates the holiday season and perfectly aligns with the jolly yet consumer spirit of New Yorkers.

Christmas in New York City


Another obvious reminder of how important and rooted the celebration of Christmas is in New York City is the annual Radio City Christmas show; a show that uses the largest theater in the city to garner the attention and joyous spirit of the entire city through tireless commercials and continuous publicity.



Christmas is filled with joy and cheer, from gift giving, to family dinners, but one must always ask such questions such as, where did Santa come from?and What is the origin of the Christmas tree? These elements are seemingly random compared to the Nativity story. Here’s some light on these Holiday symbols:

Santa Claus

Santa Claus

In 1773, non-Dutch patriots in New York founded the Sons of St. Nicholas to counter English societies and symbols; this was more so to counter culture than to praise St. Nicholas,  initially. After the American Revolution, however, Dutch roots were risen with pride for the new nation. Soon, John Pintard, founder of the New York Historical Societ in 1804, gave St. Nicholas the status of a patron saint for the city.

In 1773 New York non-Dutch patriots formed the Sons of St. Nicholas, primarily as a non-British symbol to counter the English St. George societies, rather than to honor St. Nicholas. This society was similar to the Sons of St. Tammany in Philadelphia. Not exactly St. Nicholas, the children’s gift-giver. The first imaginations of Nicholas’s image came from Washington Irving, when he joined the Historical Society: he was an “elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe.” With jolliness and a tendency to go down chimneys bearing gifts, Nicholas’s image was first celebrated on December 6, 1810, when the New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner ever.

Coinciding with the 19th century was the realization that childhood was a delicate and important stage of development. Holiday seasons were beginning to ease in nature, allowing for more leisure activities and shopping, and for the legend of St. Nicholas to develop as well.

In 1821, a book called The Children’s Friend was anonymous produced with lithography and illustrated accompaniment. At once, the story of the north pole, reindeers, and sleighs was born. In addition, it was the first time this so-called, “Santa Claus” arrived on Christmas, instead of December 6th.

As years went by, Santa Clause became the premiere image of Christmas for children and industries all at once. As the holiday escalated in commercialism, so too did the use of Santa Clause for marketing.


“In 1931 Haddon Sundblom began thirty-five years of Coca-Cola Santa advertisements that popularized and firmly established this Santa as an icon of contemporary commercial culture.”1

Between Polar bears, Santa Clause, with his bright-red image, certainly competes for emphasizing the Christmas season with a cold, Coca-Cola!


Christmas Tree


The first practices of decorating trees belonged to Greek and Pagan societies, attempting to please their multiple gods during the winter solstice.

Practices similar to the modern Christmas tree can be dated back to Western Germany during the 16th century. These trees were known as Paradeisbaum, which translates to “Paradise Trees.” There were in reference to Adam and Eve and correlated to a traditional feast which landed on December 24th, the Feast of Adam and Eve. German immigrants brought the tree tradition during the 1700s; they quickly reached popularity in every home at around 1850.

The modern Christmas tree tradition dates back to Western Germany in the 16th century. They were called “Paradeisbaum” (paradise trees) and were brought into homes to celebrate the annual Feast of Adam and Eve on DEC-24.  They were first brought to America by German immigrants about 1700. Christmas trees became popular among the general U.S. population about 1850. 

The first president to arrnage a Christmas Tree set-up at the White House  was President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869). Following him, President Calvin Coolidge (1885-1933) began the annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House territory in 1923.2

While frowned upon by some Catholic and other Christian religious groups for being a strictly Pagan and heinous ritual, the Christmas Tree is certainly beloved by many, especially New Yorkers.



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