The lost tradition of New Year’s “calling”

Instead of spending New Year’s Day nursing a hangover, 19th century New York gentlemen went “calling,” visiting the homes of ladies with whom they were acquainted. There they had a bit of food and drink, dropped off a calling card, and wished their host a happy New Year before moving on to the next house. Men competed to visit the most ladies; women vied to get the most calling cards.

womensfashions1860s What a fashionable female might have worn while receiving her callers. It’s from the 1867 A.T. Stewart department store catalog. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the late 19th century, the tradition was dying out. As the New York Times lamented on January 3, 1888:

“But by far the most noteworthy circumstance in yesterday’s history was the almost complete death of the ancient custom of call-making.

“Some of the ‘old boys,’ however, could be seen yesterday in their spotless kid gloves and shiny ties making the rounds as solemnly as they did 30, 40, or 50 years ago . . . . In none of the brownstone districts yesterday were the familiar sights of other New Year’s Days to be encountered . . . . Not even the acknowledgment of a basket for cards was shown either on Fifth or Madison avenue of the cross streets. 

broadwayinwinter2

“Broadway in Winter,” 1857, looking south from Spring Street, by H. Sebron

“Few carriages were observed bearing the gentlemen about on a pilgrimage of good wishes, and as a matter of fact the ladies themselves did not even deem it necessary to inform their friends that they should not receive. It was taken for granted that they would not.”

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11 Responses to “The lost tradition of New Year’s “calling””

  1. blackbohemian Says:

    There’s something to be said for certain traditions and civilities. As a native New Yorker, I really like this blog.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thank you. I also wonder if the New Year’s calling tradition will ever make a comeback.

  3. Six Degrees of Bernard Madoff - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    [...] halcyon days of 19th century New York, when gentlemen made the rounds to visit their lady friends, known as “calling,” on New Year’s Day. [Ephemeral New [...]

  4. reine Says:

    I think this alone is a reason to move back into the city. I love it!

  5. Letty Says:

    My friend posted your link on her facebook page and i enjoyed reading your blog post. I dont think men court women at all for new years. I wish they did.
    I even referred your post on my blog:
    http://www.lettyloveshow.com/?cat=18
    Happy New year!

  6. Lidian Says:

    It was still going strong in Brooklyn in the late 19th century! My ggg aunt used to receive, they listed households who had open houses in the Eagle…

    I wrote about this too, over at Virtual Dime Museum! :)

  7. A little history with your holidays « Patell and Waterman's History of New York Says:

    [...] If you’d like to revive a non-commercial historic NYC holiday tradition, try “calling on” (visiting) as many friends as possible on New Year’s Day. You’ll need to bring the equivalent of a photographic calling card to leave behind. I suppose you could do something like this on Facebook, but we’re fans of the slow media version that requires actual travel from house to house. We wrote about it last holiday season, as did our friend Esther at Ephemeral New York. [...]

  8. The tasty food of a colonial Dutch New Year’s Day « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] the 19th century, calling was a more refined, but no less popular New Year’s [...]

  9. Nick Nicholson Says:

    Visit the Merchant’s House Museum for a New Year’s Day Call! Check the website at http://www.merchantshouse.org!

  10. James G. Patterson Says:

    Reblogged this on jamesgpatterson and commented:
    A tradition maintained by my mother’s family in Delaware to this day!

  11. All the ways New York celebrated the New Year | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] all started with the early Dutch settlers, who began the tradition of New Year’s calling: going around the colony “calling” on their friends and neighbors to wish them well in […]

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