I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
It's no surprise that many Christmas traditions can be traced back to New York, beginning first with the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, continuing into nineteenth-century writing by Washington Irving, and later, illustrations of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast (pictured).
The Dutch, who brought with them the legend of their patron Saint Nicholas, left stockings and shoes by the chimney to receive presents and sweets on St. Nicholas Eve (December 5). And though the origin of the Christmas tree is not specific to New York, the large population of nineteenth-century German immigrants living in the city helped popularize the trend, and by the 1850s, many wealthy families brought trees into their homes to celebrate. (To learn more about how New Yorkers romanced the Christmas tree, read this.) If your interest is further piqued, check out "Christmas Comes to Old New York," an exhibit at the Merchant's House Museum located on East Fourth Street between Lafayette and the Bowery.
All of the rooms in the museum are decorated for the holidays as they would have been during the Victorian era, giving visitors a chance to experience an old-fashioned New York Christmas as costumed actors recreate holiday traditions like preparing meals, ornamenting the Christmas tree, and gathering by the fire. Candlelight tours will be given every 20 minutes, beginning at 4PM on December 17 and 18 and 6PM on December 19. To continue the mood, finish your evening with a moonlight carriage ride through Central Park topped off with old-fashioned Christmas treats like egg nog, wassail, gingerbread, and bread pudding.