Most New Yorkers today get their holiday roasts and chops all nicely packaged from a refrigerated counter.
Not so in the 1870s. Hitting up one of the city’s huge (and typically filthy) outdoor markets so you could pick out a main course for your holiday meant looking Christmas dinner in the eye.
“The neighborhood of Fulton Market, and all the passages of the market itself, were thronged yesterday with holiday buyers, who elbowed each other about in the snow and slush as if their lives depended upon the celerity with which they made their tour of the meat shops and poultry stands,” wrote the New York Times two days before Christmas in 1876.
Fulton Market—not just for fish but meat and game as well, as seen in the 1878 illustration above—was one of New York’s biggest. Washington Market on the West Side (below in 1879), also supplied New Yorkers with fresh game.
A 1901 Harper’s Weekly article paid tribute to the “market men” who ran these venues and supplied the city with fare for holiday banquets.
“The city is awake and ravenous. In all the river streets the sidewalks are blockaded with great heaps of things to eat. Inside and outside the markets, as far as you can see, are butter and eggs, apples, pears, bananas, oranges, potatoes, cabbage, ducks and wild game, fat geese and chickens, grouse, quail, and woodcock, the staple meats in amazing quantity, fish, lobster, scallops, and mussels, and turkeys, turkeys, turkeys, until one is convinced that the gobbler and not the eagle should be stamped on all the coin in the realm.”