Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year, or New Year’s Eve. Customs vary throughout Scotland, however, they traditionally include giving of gifts and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours. Special attention is given to the first-foot, a Scottish and Northern English custom, established in folklore. The first-foot is the first person to cross the threshold of a home on New Year’s Day, regarded as a bringer of good fortune for the coming year. The first-foot usually brings several gifts, perhaps a coin, bread, salt, coal, or a drink (usually whisky), which respectively represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, and good cheer.
Another custom which is prevalent in Scottish celebrations and others is the singing of Auld Lang Syne, a poem by Scottish poet Robbie Burns, written in 1788. The tune to which it is traditionally sung is an old Scottish folk tune.
From all of us at the Oshawa Museum, Happy Hogmanay and Happy New Year!
In Canada, December 31 is commemorated as the Levee. It’s a social gathering held by the Governor General, Lieutenant General, and the military in Canada. Levee had been celebrated for years, but it was first tied to New Year’s Eve, in Canada, in 1646. The Governor of New France held the levee in the Chateau St. Louis, and during the levee he informed the guests of what to look forward to in the new year and that they were expected to renew their allegiance to the Crown. The tradition of the levee continued after the Governor Charles Huault de Montmagny was no longer in charge.
In 2013, the Oshawa Museum received a phenomenal collection of letters and papers from the Henry Family. In February 1880, George Henry wrote to his mother Lurenda, the first letter may have sent since the passing of his father Thomas in September 1879. Within this long letter, he tells his mother how he spent the new year, saying,
We went from there by invitation to John Edgars to take Newyears dinner and assisted in disposing of a fine turkey & goose. I have another invitation to meet with them on honour of the old gentlemans birth day on the 11th inst when another turkey is to be slaughtered. (all spelling as originally written).
Not many letters touch on the holiday season, but this letter provides a small glimpse at how one Henry child marked the beginning of 1880.
Letter Transcription (all spelling and punctuation as written)
Harrow Feb 3.rd/80
While in these parts the last few years I have been in the habit of writing to Father and you both but now must write to you alone. The change is so great that I scarcely know what to say. I know you have many sad lonely hours, your feeble state of health with so much suffering from your sore leg makes the days and nights drag heavily, I often dream of seeing Dear Father and rember with much pleasure the plesant visit I had with him at Orono a few days before I went to Montreal but no one can miss Father as much as yourself. I have often thought to loose a good faithful Husband or Wife must be like looseing a part of ones self, but such is life, and we have to bear it. We are all upon the great train mooveing, rapidly on to the great Depot of death stepping off one by one. we follow our loved ones so far and no further, when we give one long anxious lingering look but we see them no more, there is no return train or pasanger to report. all alone we walk through the dark vally and shadow of death with the blessed hope of the Saviour’s strong arm to lean upon, I was glad to hear your health is improving and hope you will be very careful of yourself. P. A. writes that she has Fathers history finished and wanted to see you. she had an answer from the Publishing house in Dayton Ohio about publishing Fathers history but not very encouraging she would like that the boys would invest $20.00 each towards the printing and take books for their pay and for me to pay the rest as she fears it will be a looseing matter. If you think favourable of it- you can speak to them as you see them and what is done should be done at once, I have a letter from Ebben they are all well he says you are to keep the oil painting of Father as long as you want it with you, P.A and I had a very plesant visit in Michigan we first visited Dr. Hayward & family found him quite comfortable in health but cant stand but very little fatigue, I gave him and wife your kind regards also Elder Sherman who is preaching there and they all wished to be kindly remembered to you assuring you their sympathy, and hope to see you again they talked much of the general loss and loneliness felt in Fathers death. We then visited Dr. Younghusband found them well and had a good visit with him and his good second Wife she apperes to be a splendid woman, I think, I never saw a man more if as well pleased to see a woman that was no kin to them as the Dr. was to see P.A. it was eighteen years since he saw her. he talked over his sojourn in Oshawa while she was editing the paper and how often he had become discoraged and felt he could not accomplish the task before him and of his often visits to our house and the good advice P.A always gave him with good encouraging words, and the written recommend when he left Oshawa, he said he owed more to her for his success in life from that time than to any being living. We also visited a family by the name of Fowler in Detroit a very fine family. our first acquaintance with them was at our place at home a relative of theirs at Bowmanville brought them to visit us. they are called one of the upper tens of Detroit, and generally travel and board during hot summer weather we had a fine visit with them. We went from there by invitation to John Edgars to take Newyears dinner and assisted in disposing of a fine turkey & goose. I have another invitation to meet with them on honour of the old gentlemans birth day on the 11th inst when another turkey is to be slaughtered. from Mr.. Edgars P.A. went home and I came here and the second morning I started out on buisines I sprained my knee very bad & was laid up some time it is still weak and a part of last week and so far this week I have been very sick and confined to the bed most of the time until yesterday, to day I hope to be up all day and am able to write this letter. my sickness has been of the stomach. with fever and pain of body from head to foot. and I tell you I have been loansome. The lamenes-sicknes, and mud has not alowed me to do much I have not got to Cliffords yet but hope to soon. Hoping you are all well, with much love to you all. I remain as ever your son George