New York Today: New York Today: How Trains Helped Create the Holidays

New York Today
By ALEXANDRA S. LEVINE

All aboard on this semi-sunny Wednesday.

There’s one train show at Grand Central Terminal and another at the New York Botanical Garden. Vintage subway cars are making special runs, model trains are zipping through Macy’s Santaland, and tales of the Polar Express abound.

Trains seem to be inextricably linked to the holidays. Why is that?

Christian Wolmar, a railway historian and author of “The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America,” told us that the holidays were, in essence, “invented by the railways.”

“Until they had railways, people couldn’t travel very much,” he said. “There’s a strong association with time off or holiday time and the railways, because the two developed in tandem.”

The railways, which originated in the United Kingdom, existed for at least half a century before people could travel by car, Mr. Wolmar explained, so the association between leisure and locomotives became fixed early on. The British “railway mania” of the 1840s picked up speed in the United States over the few decades that followed, but trains here had their holiday travel “heyday” in the 1920s and 1930s, Mr. Wolmar said, “before the luxury market was taken away by airplanes and the mass market was taken away by cars.”

He added that mail-order — ordering gifts from department stores to homes, for example — was also made possible by the railways, further connecting trains to holiday traditions.

Amy Hausmann, senior curator and deputy director for collections and exhibitions at the New York Transit Museum, explained that “in the 19th century, going home for the holidays meant getting on a train to visit your family.”

But it was around that time that families celebrating Christmas also began the custom of placing holiday relics under the tree, Ms. Hausmann said — and what started as figures of nativity soon became mini-villages under the tree, and eventually those included model trains.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Ms. Hausmann added, the Lionel company was creating toy train sets with tracks perfectly sized to loop around the base of a Christmas tree.

Tips for visiting the train shows: You can see the Grand Central Terminal display seven days a week, but arrive early to skip the crowds. You can explore the New York Botanical Garden display Tuesday through Sunday, but weekdays are often less busy than weekends (except during Christmas week).

Here’s what else is happening:

Weather

Interactive Feature | Weather in New York City Today’s Weather in New York City

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

You’ll see cloudy skies as you roll out of bed, and there’s a slight chance of rain — but the gray will make way for sweet sunshine.

The cold has rolled in, though, so bundle up. Temperatures will hover in the 40s today and the 30s by week’s end, when we’re (finally!) expecting snow sprinkles.

In the News

The bizarre death of a Brooklyn mobster’s son, at the hands of friends. [The New York Times]

The city comptroller halted a $24,000 payout to the former jails commissioner, citing potential improper use of city vehicles. [New York Times]

A 69-year-old Bronx man was fatally shot by the police, who said he was carrying a machete. [New York Times]

A lawyer defending a detective charged with rape has called the accuser’s story “patently false,” though his arguments have at times veered towards victim-blaming. [New York Times]

The Republican tax plan, aimed at high-tax and Democratic-leaning states, could thwart promises made by New Jersey’s next governor. [New York Times]

Testimony by New York City’s public housing chief revealed a four-year delay in lead-paint inspections, prompting disbelief. [New York Times]

President Trump’s lawyer argued that state court has no jurisdiction over a sitting president, in regards to a defamation suit brought by a woman who had accused him of unwanted sexual advances. [New York Times]

In “About New York,” the columnist Jim Dwyer writes about how New York’s murder rate has continued to drop, despite warnings that ending stop-and-frisk would make the city a more dangerous place. [New York Times]

The city ordered construction stopped at Paul Manafort’s Brooklyn brownstone, after complaints from a neighbor revealed that contractors did not have an approved plan for the work they were doing. [Daily News]

The son of a former New York City fire commissioner, who left his job as an EMT in 2013 after his racially charged tweets were discovered, has been rehired by the Fire Department. [ABC 7]

Melba Jordan, who has lupus and needs a kidney transplant, is very close with her 11-year-old son — each describes the other as their best friend. [New York Times]

Nominations for New York Today’s New Yorkers of the Year contest remain open through Friday. Tell us about an exemplary citizen by filling out the form at the bottom of this column.

Today’s Metropolitan Diary: “Stung by the Second Avenue Subway

For a global look at what’s happening, see Your Morning Briefing.

Coming Up Today

Children can see “The Three Bears Holiday Bash,” a variety show with puppetry and music, at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in Central Park. 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. [$8 children, $12 adults]

Join neighbors, carolers and Santa Claus to celebrate the lighting of the 45-foot-tall Christmas tree in Washington Square Park in downtown Manhattan. 5 p.m. [Free]

Desserts of Nepal and Lebanon,” a cooking demonstration, tasting and talk with the League of Kitchens, at the Museum of Food and Drink in Williamsburg. 6:30 p.m. [$25, tickets here]

The Invention of Celebrity,” a conversation with the historian Antoine Lilti and other French scholars, in La Maison Française at New York University. 6:30 p.m. [Free]

Looking ahead: See “Nutcracker Rouge,” a “burlesque fairy tale” and risqué rendition of the classic, at Théâtre XIV in Bushwick on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday. [Times and prices vary]

Knicks host Grizzlies, 7:30 p.m. (MSG).

Alternate-side parking remains in effect until Dec. 8.

For more events, see The New York Times’s Arts & Entertainment guide.

And Finally…

Missed the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center?

Worry not; the next few days are so full of lighting events that you may need sunglasses.

You can join free tree lighting festivities in Washington Square Park today, Madison Square Park or MetroTech Center tomorrow, and the West Harlem Piers on Saturday, to name just a few. Menorah lightings will follow on Tuesday at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn and Mosholu Montefiore Community Center in the Bronx.

One unusual “lighting” that might not be on your radar: On Thursday evening, the Red Hook Lobster Pound in Brooklyn will light its first-ever tree built from lobster traps.

How does one build a tree from lobster traps?

Step 1: Gather 40 lobster traps. Step 2: Stack lobster traps and wrap with fresh garland, Christmas lights and buoys. Step 3: Behold lobster trap tree. (The celebration, complete with spiked apple cider and lobster dinners, will begin tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.)

New York Today is a morning roundup that is published weekdays at 6 a.m. If you don’t get it in your inbox already, you can sign up to receive it by email here.

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What would you like to see here to start your day? Post a comment, email us at nytoday@nytimes.com, or reach us via Twitter using #NYToday.

Follow the New York Today columnists, Alexandra Levine and Jonathan Wolfe, on Twitter.

You can find the latest New York Today at nytoday.com.


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