Colonial Celebrations of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

When looking into the lives of any American colonial relatives use the date of 1752. The people living during the Colonial Period in the North American colonies using the Julian Calendar prior to 1752 celebrated New Year’s Eve on the evening of March 24 and New Year’s Day was March 25 until the year 1752 and then, beginning in that year and continuing thereafter, it has taken place on the evening of December 31, with the Gregorian calendar. And New Year’s Day January 1st.

In the Colonial period (from 1607 with Jamestown to 1776 and the beginning of the American Revolutionary War), New Year’s Eve was a time for young ladies to get together, prepare a large bowl of wassail (heated, spiced ale) and carry it from house to house, sharing the warm drink with their neighbors, and receiving small gifts in return. This was called “wassailing”. The name comes from the Middle English, waes and haeil, meaning “health to you”. The drink consisted of mulled (heated) cider or ale, with sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and other spices mixed in. Pieces of toast would be floated on the top of the bowl. The wassail was also known by the name of ‘Lamb’s Wool’.

Another custom during Colonial times, was to give small gifts on New Year’s Day. It was believed that the ending of the previous year was to be celebrated with drinking and socializing with loved ones and friends, plus the giving and receiving of gifts. A common gift was an orange with cloves stuck in it. A ribbon would be tied around a fresh orange, and then the entire exposed surface would be covered with whole cloves and then dusted in cinnamon. These were known as ‘Pomander Balls’

Individuals also visited the homes of friends and neighbors on New Year’s Day.

In the city of Philadelphia was the custom of ‘Mumming’ on New Year’s Day dating to Colonial times. It was a group of men, known as ‘mummers’ who would get together to go along the city streets, singing, dancing and clowning for fun. They went door-to-door to perform and food treats or even money was given to them. This tradition continued for years and eventually became the famed ‘Mummers parade’ beginning in 1901.

A popular drink treat at Christmas was chocolate was also quite the treat for the New Year’s in many households. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson predicted that chocolate would become the favorite beverage in North America over coffee and tea. This prediction came after the Boston Tea Party and the rejection of tea by the colonists, and prior to the widespread consumption of coffee in North America. Chocolate remained exclusively a drink until the mid-19th century (1850s) when advertisements for solid eating chocolate first appeared.

Photos: Wassail; Orange decorated; Philadelphia Mummers; and Popular hot chocolate drink.

Related Blogs:

New Years Day Open House

Good Luck Foods for New Year

New Years Baby

< Return To Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.