Christmas has come and gone 323 times since the first worship service in the first Trinity Church on Broadway and Wall Street on March 13, 1698. Trinity had received its charter from the British crown in 1696, and the church building (below) was constructed in 1697.
And for almost 150 Trinity Christmases, there was no such thing as photography. So it's safe to say the images here, curated by Trinity’s Assistant Archivist Marissa Maggs, represent a relatively limited documentation of parish Christmas history, beginning early in the 20th century.
New York City native Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States on Christmas Eve 1907 when a seasonally decorated St. Paul’s Chapel (above) hosted a midday Christmas carol service. Even then, the chapel, built in 1766, had almost a century-and-a-half of its own history.
Fast forward to an image from the terrace of the south churchyard that recalls, very emphatically, the 1950s. It’s a photo from December 15, 1955, including clergy, staff, and parishioners with the Rev. John Heuss, Trinity’s 13th Rector, blessing a very formidable Christmas crèche.
Eight days later, Dr. George Mead, who was Trinity’s Organist and Choirmaster from 1941 to 1968, conducted a service of Christmas carols inside the church.
Dr. Mead shows up again in a Christmas season photo from 1961, conducting the Trinity Choir at the lighting of the Christmas tree on Wall Street in front of the New York Stock Exchange, a couple of hundred yards from the church.
By 1963, most of the numerous chapels that had been established across the city by Trinity had become independent parishes. One exception was the Chapel of the Intercession (now Church of the Intercession), which sits between the two sections of Trinity’s Uptown Cemetery and Mausoleum. In the photo above, the congregation of Intercession gathers together during the Christmas season on what was obviously a very cold day to bless the grave of Alfred Tennyson Dickens, son of author Charles Dickens.
Another image from Intercession dates from December 22, 1968. On that Fourth Sunday of Advent, the congregation gathers, with Sisters of Mercy from the nearby Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine of Genoa, to remember Clement Clarke Moore, writer of the famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, which begins, “‘Twas the night before Christmas.” Reading that poem and visiting Moore’s gravestone on the Fourth Sunday of Advent is a custom that is now a century old at the Church of the Intercession, although the pandemic has altered the observance the past two years.
The final image is very recent. In December 2020, Trinity’s worship services were closed to the public due to COVID-19. A crèche at the front door of the church served as a reminder to all who passed by on Broadway of the celebration of Christmas, and how that celebration happens no matter what the circumstances.