It is almost 2016! Many people are planning a New Year’s Eve party on December 31st and then a solid day of parades and football watching on January 1st.
In the 1870s, our Mr. and Mrs. Flynn would have had a slightly different take on ringing in the new year. New Year’s day was a day for gentlemen—especially young, eligible bachelor gentlemen—to go from house to house making New Year’s day calls. Ladies would get together to hold open houses on New Year’s Day, with punch and buffet snacks at various homes. The men would go from house to house sampling the food and punch, and making eyes at the various young ladies. Of course, the men would leave a calling card and sign an autograph book at every home they visited.
The Des Moines Leader newspaper listed before New Year’s in 1874 that:
“Our New Year’s callers will not be disappointed this year, for the ladies will very generally throw open their houses, and New Year’s will be a merry day. We have not been able to obtain a complete list of those intending to keep open house, but give those we have and will publish a complete list before next Saturday. The following ladies will receive at their homes . . .” What followed was a list of four social matriarchs in Des Moines and all the ladies that would be assisting at that house. Such as “Mrs. Dr. Baker and daughter” assisted by “Mrs. Judge Rice, Mrs. J.S. Polk, Mrs. Alex Talbot, Mrs. F.M. Hubbell, Mrs. W.L. Bird, Mrs. Clarke Shackleford, Miss Alice Cooper, Misses Mary and Maggie Shackleford, Miss Nellie Griffith, Miss Mary LeBosquett and Miss Kate Johnson.”
Holiday calling was not limited to the big city. Winterset, a bustling county seat town at the time, reported in their paper The Weekly Madisonian, on January 6, 1876:
“A Happy New Year—. . . .a large number of our gentlemen put in the afternoon calling. We again insert the names of those who kept open houses for our list of last week was not complete [following was a list of eight houses and all the ladies present at each one]. At all these houses tables were spread, loaded with the delicacies of the season and weighted down with all that could make them look inviting. In many of the houses the dining room was darkened and then brilliantly lighted with lamps. Some were also elegantly and tastily wreathed and adorned with mottoes in evergreen.”
“The whole contrasted most delightfully with the elements outside, not least of which in making the contrast were the smiles of fair women, and the words of welcome and wishes of joy. Vocal and instrumental music made the time pass still more pleasantly in many of the houses. On the whole it was a most enjoyable day, long to be remembered by the people of Winterset.”
“In the midst of the snow a dozen or so of young men procured bells and gave us a street concert, a la Swiss Bell Ringers. Marching around the square singing John Brown’s Body, and keeping time with the bells, the snow and the sleet heightening the effect it added to the general jollity…”
The bell ringing may be explained, perhaps, by pointing out that a great many punch recipes for the 1870s did contain alcohol. The Temperance movement of the time did offer housewives other fruit only recipes, but a good rum punch was pretty common. If you think of young men attending four or five houses and imbibing a cup or two of punch at each one, it’s a pretty good thing that they were driving sleighs with horses that probably knew their own way home.
Thanks to the Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project historic food research site, we are able to share with you a couple of punch recipes for your own celebrations. The first, a strong Roman Punch, is from The Ideal Bartender, published in 1917 by Thomas Bullock, a bartender at the St. Louis Country Club. This very strong punch is meant to be cut with shaved ice and served to a good sized group of people who will sip it slowly while chatting together.
The second recipe can be served with or without alcohol. It is from La Cuisine Creole, published in New Orleans by Lafcadio Hearn in 1885.
Have a very happy (and safe and responsible) New Year!