Calling in the New Year

Past tradition meant actually going to see someone

A New Year's postcard is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

Do you have a traditional way to spend your New Year’s Day? Do you grab the chips and wings before settling in to watch the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl on TV? Or perhaps you enjoy the winter weather and going skiing or snowshoeing? Or maybe you even spend the day recovering from the previous night’s excesses?

During the 19th century, “calling” was the traditional way to celebrate the New Year. This was not the modern concept of placing a telephone call but rather the old-fashioned definition of making a short visit.

Groups of women would get together and announce, either through formal invitations or a newspaper column, that they were having an open house, with refreshments, during designated hours. In addition to the ladies who made formal preparations to receive guests, many were “at home” to all who chose to call. Once the ladies were ready, the men would brave the cold to visit their lady friends. Years later one of the men who had made the rounds each New Year’s recalled that the ladies usually served chicken salad and other fancy foods and by the time the last call had been made, he was uncomfortably stuffed and couldn’t stand the sight of chicken for weeks afterwards.

In 1891, not even a blizzard could interrupt the merriment. The Mining Journal reported “In the face of the blizzard and through the fast forming drifts plowed Marquette’s society men yesterday to make their New Year’s calls, the weather being too rough for horses to stand outside… About 40 gentlemen were out. Refreshments were provided everywhere in abundance but nothing more exhilarating than tea and the finest Havana cigars tempted any of the visitors.

“At Mrs. Merritt’s home (410 E. Ridge St.) the Hughes orchestra played dance music during the afternoon and one of the drawing rooms was cleared invitingly. The gentlemen seemed aware of the treat in store for them and made their call there toward the last so that as the afternoon waned, a very little lively party was in progress. Each of the ladies who received with Miss Merritt was presented with a beautiful little pin as a souvenir of the occasion.”The article also gave the names of the other half dozen hostesses and the ladies who assisted them.

Even as the tradition of New Year’s Day calling faded, the Marquette County Historical Society tried to keep the practice alive. For many years the museum would hold an open house. In 1978, 200 people attended the open house and witnessed the unveiling of the Victorian dollhouse.

Two years later in 1980, there was a showing of baskets from 1840 to 1980 from the collections of Anita Meyland and Virginia Long, and Frank Paull, the director, played the Kimball organ (circa 1890).

In keeping with this long tradition, the Marquette Regional History Center is hosting an open house on New Year’s Day from 1:30 to 4:30. Please join us for the kick off to a year of our 100th birthday celebrations! This free day to the museum is brought to you by UPHP and features special exhibits, interesting artifacts, historical role players, music by Who Dat

Brass and refreshments. Between the Rose Parade and the football games, come discover the fascinating stories that make up our history.