Gothamtide: Christmas in New York

The following is an excerpt from an article by Sibyl McCormac Groff entitled “Gothamtide: Words and Images in Nineteenth Century New York,” that first appeared in Antiques magazine.

New Yorkers have long promoted the Christmas season, or Gothamtide as I like to call it, which begins in early December and lasts until the twelfth day after Christmas, or January 6. While Christmas day was not declared a national holiday by the United States Congress until 1870, it was recognized as a holiday in New York State in 1849. New York’s prosperous ports (enhanced by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825), the development of the transcontinental railroad system, and the rise of industry and commerce led to an increase in the number of immigrants settling in New York City, and the emergence of the family-centered middle class.

By 1825 New York City was the center of publishing in the United States, outpacing both Boston and Philadelphia. Innovative technologies, new advertising formats, economical postage, and efficient systems of distribution, all combined with an increased literacy rate, enabled New York City to produce two-thirds of the nation’s periodicals with a circulation of some one hundred thousand. Not surprisingly, as the century unfolded, printed media focusing on Christmas proliferated. Newspapers, magazines, and books, along with broadsides, sheet music, trade cards, greeting cards, game boards, and puzzles attest to the crucial role New York City played in developing national secular holiday traditions. Given the diversity of people in the ever-changing urban environment of New York City, Christmas observances were at first based on ethnic, class, regional, and religious variations, but this slowly but surely coalesced into a national holiday.

Letterhead of Stephen S. Mapes, 1860s. It is dated May 26, 1869. Mapes was a toy importer in New York City. New-York Historical Society, Bella C. Landauer Collection.

To read more of this fascinating and informative article about New York and the development of Christmas traditions in the United States, click HERE to visit Sibyl McCormac Groff’s website, The Spirited New Yorker.

After you have read up on your Christmas history, be sure to take one of Sibyl’s Christmas Walking Tours that “will explain how Christmas became the most important holiday towards the end of the 19th century due to New Yorkers such as Washington Irving, John Pintard, Clement Clark Moore and Thomas Nast.”

Tours are given November 23 through December 30, 2012 – Thursday through Sunday at 5:30pm or you can arrange a private tour by contacting Sibyl at

Sibyl McCormac Groff, The Spirited New Yorker, is an experienced and highly acclaimed licensed New York City tour guide whose expertise includes the architecture, artwork and history of Rockefeller Center, midtown Manhattan and New York City. Sibyl is famed for coining the word “Gothamtide” to describe the secular and universal holiday traditions that have historically been associated with New York City. She leads the Christmas Holiday Walking Tour for NYCVP from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve.

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