Time has a way of running out this time of year, and with horror I realized this morning – the day after Christmas – that a column had to be in by 10 a.m. almost immediately. Holiday stress can kind of befuddle one’s mind, especially in the morning, and the only idea I had was to look through my mother’s columns and see what she had to say about Happy New Year.
Here is what she had to say for Jan. 1, 1964, and it is just as apropos almost five decades later as it was then.
“The advent of the New Year has come to have different meaning to later generations than it had to their grandparents. To our generation it is an occasion of hooray and whoop-er-up, often accelerated by generous portions of the white man’s firewater.
“By and large it has come to be a season of dread in highway statistics for New Year’s Eve, and the consumption of coffee for the road is openly advocated in our news prints, a very good trend.
“Your grandfather would be horrified. Not that he was averse to a nip to ward off bad luck for the coming year. In fact, his cellar was apt to hold several jugs and bottles, some for just plain hospitality, some for interesting occupational hazards like snake bites or bee stings, or a Charley horse or a few other ailments just vague enough to require a couple of swigs.
“And some of Grandma’s blackberry cordial was stashed there, too. Even the preacher was served this in little thin Waterford glasses with thin slices of pound cake when he came to call. She kept it hidden, she thought, behind the jars of peach butter, but a certain amount of evaporation or something took place for sometime when she went to get it she found she had less than she remembered.
“A discreet serving of her cordial or her peach brandy might usher in the New Year and she made a superb eggnog for after the watch service at the meeting house but the use of such refreshment was really ceremonial within the kinship and friendship circles.
“Drinking in public was only for a certain type of drinker. As for lapses in grace or behavior in bad taste the worst social fate possible was meted out and they had a term for it. Not to be received in certain homes was the penalty. It carried a certain amount of weight, too, in the days when public opinion was respected.
“On New Year’s Eve, most folks went to church for the watch service which began at 11 with hymns and Scripture reading until time to toll the bell at midnight. It was a lovely custom, the softly lighted church, the spire pointing into the starry sky of the winter night, snowy roads, fine horses and cutters and sleigh bells. The people in their best church clothes, whole families together and the children thrilled to pieces at being up in the middle of the night. And always the shy young couples who were ‘bespoken,’ or the less binding, ‘keeping company.’ To use the same hymnal, with hands touching, was about as much public affection as good taste permitted. Giggling little sisters and snoopy brothers kept tab on every move.
“They sang the Doxology at midnight and all the village church bells rang and every farm bell clanged out in the country. After the benediction, everyone shook hands and wished each other well for the coming year. It was high life indeed to be up so late when normally 9 p.m. saw every house in town darkened for the night.
“The people walked home slowly in the darkness. Friends would come along too and there would be cold ham and oyster stew and potato rusks, best of all the hot rolls the Pennsylvania Dutch contributed to our American cookery. A huge bowl of foaming eggnog and Grandpa’s handsome Bohemian decanter filled with his mild liquid welcome the New Year.
“It was a nice custom, to end the old year in church and start the new year in church. Most of those meeting houses were the white ones of enduring pictorial quality.
“The weathervane on the spire was important too so sailors way out to sea could see that spire and bow his head a moment to think of home. In Old Gloucester of the Massachusetts fishing banks there is in the Fishermans’ Church, Our Lady of Good Voyage, a famous Madonna holding a model of a Gloucester fishing schooner.
“We are fortunate in this valley in that we have many of our small Greek Revival churches still standing. We like to hope and pray they will be kept intact, safe from the monstrous bulldozer of progress.
“We like to think of all the good people who went to all the New Year services to ask for strength for the coming year. They wished for each other what we wish for you, a Happy New Year for 1964.”
And her daughter wishes for you a happy 2008.