New Paltz Methodists Celebrate Christmas with Famous Hymnist, Ira D. Sankey in 1875

November 2023
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

The New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church celebrated Christmas “as only the Methodists know how” during the 1870s. The editors of the New Paltz Times reported on the annual celebration of December 24, 1875. The detailed description of the event noted that “on either side of the pulpit was a handsome Christmas Tree, laden with presents of all kinds, one for the children and one for the congregation.” Special guests punctuated the occasion. Celebrated hymnist, Ira D. Sankey, led the musical portion of the service. Sankey, “an exceptional baritone,” was a colleague of renowned preacher and revivalist Dwight L. Moody. Sankey composed moving hymns that continue to be sung in the 21st century. At the New Paltz Christmas service, Sankey led “Mr. Smith of Rifton, assisted by several ladies of the same place, and a few of this Village,” in singing some of the hymns he composed. Rev. Dr. Thomas Carter (appointed to New Paltz 1874-75) preached at the service, and after the hymns and preaching, gifts were distributed. “Each merry little heart made happy with a present, which in after years will refresh their memory of the pleasant time they had on the above occasion.” The merriment of this happy occasion no doubt owed not only to excellent planning by New Paltz Methodists but also the uplifting and historic hymns of Ira Sankey.

Sources:  New Paltz Times, December 30, 1875; Ira David Sankey, Obituary, The Emporia Daily Gazette, August 20, 1908.

Check out this link for more information about Ira D. Sankey