What did New Yorkers do to celebrate the New Year before there was a ball to drop?
According to the January 1916 edition of The Lotus Magazine, they “went calling” on New Year’s Day. Practiced from “old Dutch times” into the 1880’s, the day was “devoted to the universal interchange of visits. Every door was thrown open wide. It was a breach of etiquette to omit any acquaintance in these annual calls, when old friendships were renewed and family differences amicably settled. A hearty welcome was extended even to strangers of presentable appearance.”
What a warm, friendly, nostalgic (can we possibly be exaggerating a bit?) tradition.
Of course along with visiting goes eating:
Special houses were noted for particular forms of entertainment. At one it was egg nog; at another, rum punch; at this one, pickled oysters; at that, boned turkey, or marvelous chocolate, or Mocha coffee…At all houses there were New Year’s cakes, in the form of an Egyptian cartouche, and in later and more degenerate days, relays of champagne-bottles, the coming in of the garish empire of the nouveau riches.
Yes I thought this was sounding more and more like a Rich People thing! Egyptian cartouche cakes?
But alas even The Rich can turn a genteel custom into a free-for-all…
The ceremony of calling had degenerated into a burlesque. There was a noisy and hilarious greeting, a glass of wine was swallowed hurriedly, everybody shook hands all around, and the callers dashed out and rushed into the (waiting) carriage and were driven rapidly to the next house. Far more serious than this however, was the manner in which society women found their houses invaded…
You get the picture. Mayhem. Fainting ladies. Whatever.
And while there was no dropping of Swarovski-encrusted balls in Times Square, old-time New Yorkers did see in the new year by gathering publicly, until of course…
…even this custom had to be abandoned on account of the unruliness of the crowd.
Those wacky Victorians…give them an inch and they take a mile! More on them in upcoming posts…
Thank you for following My History Fix! I am looking forward to a fun, productive, prosperous 2016—and wish the same for you!
Happy New Year. The Lotus Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 4 (January 1916): 145-150.