New Year Across the Pond


Wall Street, 1834

Snippets 177. One hundred and fifty years ago, at the dawn of the year 1869, the British papers were all full of reports of new year celebrations.  The local papers tended to recount meetings in church halls with speeches delivered by mayors to cries of “here here”.  The East London Observer instead attempted to give a flavour of how New Year’s Day was celebrated across the pond, with an article titled New Year’s Day in New York.  The following snippet gives selected quotes from the article, which appeared in the 2nd January 1869 edition.

Commerce, in the American metropolis, is a jealous and stiff-fingered goddess, who is loth to yield her power, even for a day, and who detests anniversaries as her natural enemies. But on the first day of the new year she suffers a compulsory abdication. The West End divinity, fashion, for the nonce usurps her place; and for that day, at least, the slaves of commerce desert her musty, down-town and worship the gaudier idol in that New York Belgravia, which the natives sweepingly speak of as the “upper end.” Plainly speaking, business, on New Year’s day, is suspended and the order of the day is to balance the social accounts of the past twelve months, see as many of one’s friends as one can, and to perform “in a lump” those fashionable amenities which, through occupation or disinclination, have during the months gone by been neglected.

…New Year’s Day is full of life out-of-doors; the streets are crowded, the sounds are merry on every side, and everybody has that infectious air of gaiety and jolly good-nature, which the convivial custom of the day, and the excitement of chatting with a heat of agreeable acquaintances inspires. It is essentially the gala day and carnival of fashion, and of people “of the world.” For once the usually busy down-town thoroughfares are deserted, a dreary tranquillity reigns in the realm of commerce…

At high noon, the carnival of fashion begins; and now, in all directions, you hear that sound which to us is the merriest, jolliest, the most inspiring of all street sounds—the jingle of a thousand sleighbells. ‘Twould be disrespectful did we not, first of all, wait upon his honour, the Mayor of New York, who… is expected to go through the wearying process of receiving and shaking hands with “his fellow citizens” in his official rooms at the City Hall…

There are glossy-headed old gentlemen with red noses and bald foreheads, whose white whiskers would be venerable were they not so ferociously brushed and curled—with immense watch seats and portly bodies —the very picture of prosperous and somewhat conceited sons of Commerce: there are the dapper little fops, and ponderous big fops, with bobby coats, which give them the appearance of Chinese chickens, and hair which by the aid of pomade and fashionable hairdressers, they have vainly endeavoured to force into “Hyperion’s curls”…

The social duties of New Year’s over, society has done its duty and squared its accounts, and the divinity fashion, content for the while with the homage of its worshippers, in the daytime at least, yields up once more her masculine votaries to commerce.

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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