In the latest episode of The History Twins, Carla Lynne Hall and Jim Keyes discuss Christmas traditions in Colonial New York.The ingredients of modern Christmas are believed to have started in New Netherland, the Dutch colony founded in 1625, which later became New York.
While the Dutch observed the day of Christ’s birth, called Kerstydt, it was overshadowed by a more popular December holiday, Sinterklaas, a Dutch gift-giving tradition where children sat their shoes outside their home to be filled by a visiting St. Nicolas on December 6th. Winter weather led to the shoes being moved inside, which evolved to stockings being hung near the fireplace.
Non-Dutch families in what is now Manhattan felt the pressure from their children to adopt this tradition, which was pushed forward a couple of weeks to align with the more generally observed festival of Christmas. Over time Christmas and Sinterklaas merged into one holiday.
Carla and Keyes also discuss the dark days of Christmas in the 1770s. In Colonial New York, Christmas Eve was a time when servants and male children would knock on the doors of privileged classes and demand food and drink. If the revelers felt that they received less than the best quality, they might vandalize property.
In the 1819 publication The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, New York author Washington Irving promoted St. Nicholas as a beloved figure. Irving’s writing also described “ancient customs” of family and social gatherings, which included dancing, singing, decorations, and overall good cheer.
You can listen to the podcast on Anchor.fm here.
You can watch the conversation on YouTube here.
The History Twins podcast teaches that New York history is more than just dates and dead people. It’s for people interested in history, and the creative process involved in bringing history to life through performance. It is a production of Gentle Giant Music Productions.
You will find more stories at CarlaandKeyes.com.
Leave a Reply