Christmas Preparations Civil War Style

In the mid-1800s, the Christmas season was a time for family get-togethers, good cheer, and good will. It is also a time when the different cultural practices brought by immigrants from various backgrounds began to meld together into those we are familiar with today. We can find descriptions of what holiday celebrations were like in the stories of the time.

Skating in Central Park Currier & Ives
Skating in Central Park Currier & Ives

The following excerpt from A. Oakley Hall’s Old Whitney’s Christmas Trot (1857) gives a warm picture of Christmas preparations and activities in New York City during this period. Enjoy!

“Here was never a better day for any Christmas vouchsafed by any almanac-maker. The air was clear, but cold and bracing. The snow still crisped, like marble powder, on the ground. No wet; no fear of wet. From Battery to Madison Square the smoke was busy from the thousand chimney-tops, preaching, in its vaporish way, a practical sermon of good-will to the atmosphere. A thousand pudding-bags were airing for the morning’s boiling work. A thousand clusters of bright eyes, in a thousand cozy drawing-rooms, were shining upon the tokens of the season so bountifully spread by generous and affectionate hands. A thousand prayers, mounting like incense, asked admission up at heaven’s gate from grateful mortal hearts.” (p. 218)

“The old park-keeper in the venerable park is brushing up, for the thousandth time since the equinoctial, the fallen leaves in the graveled pathways, and praying, in disinterested mood, that no snows may come to keep the children from their Christmas fun of sober tag, when Christmas sun shall gild the ball of the old chapel’s summit. The servants in the cozy Knickerbocker mansions all about are cleaning up the door-bells and the doorplates to the brightest tense of Christmas glow. The sexton of the chapel pauses in the chancel for the hundredth time, with pious reverence of admiration for the Christmas, greens round pulpit, altar, gallery, and organ loft hung. The shopmen and storewomen in Canal Street, round the corner, are bustling behind their counters, and smiling at the troops of happy faces glancing at the wonders through the shining plates of glass. The destiny of Turkey has been settled in a thousand mansions to the household delight. A hundred bushels of cranberries, scattered through the city, glow upon ten thousand kitchen tables. Schoolboys walk with quicker step toward school, and, not prepared to talk with certainty of Christmas events at hand, recount again and again the exploits of all remembered Christmases gone by. How they study the weather and the state of the ponds in the city suburbs!” (p. 288)

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