However, we must not forget the large Dutch and German populations in the Northern colonies. These immigrants had no qualms about celebrating the winter holiday, and many of our modern traditions come from these backgrounds.
By the mid-century, improved communication, improved travel and a generally increased pace of life created the need for common customs. People longed for what they saw as traditional values, particularly centering around the family hearth. The various Christmas practices began to merge into one American holiday. Its relative lack of theological or Biblical authority “ironically allowed Christmas to emerge as a highly ecumenical event in a land of pluralism.”
Especially in the Northern cities, Christmas emerged as a tool to forge a national culture. By the 1850s, it had captured the Northern imagination and was making inroads in the South. The Civil War intensified the appeal of the holiday. “Its sentimental celebration of family matched the yearnings of soldiers and those they left behind. Its message of peace and goodwill spoke to the most immediate prayers of all Americans.”
The Northern victory in 1865 solidified many of the modern traditions, and customs and symbols of Yankee origin came to stand for the American Christmas. This new “revived Christmas” offered a retreat from contemporary life, but cast in contemporary terms. Americans varied old themes and introduced new symbols to create something uniquely their own.
Christmas rituals first got a toehold in New York, with savvy merchants quick to realize their commercial value. German bakeries began staying open late to decorate their windows with red silk buntings and holly. Holiday shoppers couldn’t resist the cakes, toys and candies displayed under glittering gas-lamps – nor could they ignore the smells of cinnamon kuchens (cakes) and sweet almond paste. By the 1870s, Macy’s was dressing their windows with Christmas displays. One window displayed dolls from Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Bohemia; another showed scenes from Uncle Tom’s cabin, with steam-powered movable parts.
The Dutch called their Santa Claus Saint Nicholas, and it is from them we learned the tradition of the Christmas stocking. As early as 1832, Harriet Martineau had identified what would become one of the most familiar symbols of the American Christmas: the Christmas tree. And by the 1850s, many Americans, not just New Englanders, had fallen in love with the German tradition.
As the tree became more popular, it also assumed a place in the market. During the 1850s, town squares began to bristle with trees cut for seasonal profits. By 1900, one American in five celebrated the holiday with a tree. At first, the decoration of these evergreens reflected the whim of folk tradition. People added strings of popcorn or beads, nuts, oranges or lemons, candies, and home-made trinkets. However, popular newspapers and magazines raised the standards for decoration (“cotton batting dipped in thin gum arbic and then diamond dust makes a beautiful frosting for tree branches”), and homely ornaments gave way to more sophisticated ones. Tree decoration soon became big business. As early as 1870, American businessmen began to import large quantities of German ornaments to be sold on street corners and variety shops. Vendors hawked glass balls in bright colors, tin cut in all imaginable shapes, and wax angels with spun glass wings.
The first Christmas cards were distributed by R.H. Pease, a printer and variety store owner from Albany, New York, in the early 1850s. A family scene dominated the small card’s center, but unlike its English forerunner (only a decade older), the images on the corners showed pictures of the bounty and joy of the season rather than reminders of poverty, cold, or hunger. It took Louis Prang, a German immigrant and “astute reader of public taste,” to expand the sending of cards to a grand scale. Prang arrived in America in 1850 and made a name as a printer. By 1870, he owned nearly two-thirds of the steam presses in America and had perfected the color printing process. When Prang introduced his Christmas cards to America in 1875, they proved such a hit that he could not meet demand.
Christmas in 19thCentury America (History Today) -https://www.historytoday.com/penne-restad/christmas-19th-century-america
The American Christmas (Writers in the Storm) - https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/the-american-christmas-victorian-style-and-today/