3. Our Traditional Conception of Santa Claus Is Commemorated Annually at this Church

What’s the oldest, continuing Christmas tradition in New York City? The Rockefeller Center Tree? The window displays at Macy’s? Not even close. It’s a festival at the Church of the Intercession known as the annual Clement Clarke Moore Festival. It honors the writer and professor who is widely credited with writing “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”, known more popularly as the beloved poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The festival has been held for over 100 years on the Sunday before Christmas at 4pm.

The idea of Santa as a jolly old elf with reindeer is largely attributed to Moore. Rumor has it that he wrote the poem while living in his home in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The rumors of how the poem came to be are quite elaborate: the scene was allegedly a snowy winter day in 1822. Moore was dashing through the snow-filled streets of Chelsea in his sleigh on his way to pick up a turkey when the poem just magically came into his imagination as a gift for his two young daughters. Moore later said the inspiration for the physicality of Santa Claus in his poem was one his neighbors, an immigrant from Holland.

The poem was published, anonymously, in 1823, and some time in the 1830s, Moore was finally revealed as its author. Like Audubon, Moore is buried at the Trinity Church Cemetery (and perhaps keeps a watchful eye from the beyond on the festival that bears his name!)