By Eryn Dion
While modern day New Year’s celebrations are all about ball drops and champagne, that’s understandably not everyone’s scene. If you’re tired of staying up until midnight and partying all night long, give some of these interesting New Year’s traditions from colonial America a try.
1. Celebrate on March 25
If you’re looking to really party like it’s 1720, you’re going to have to wait a few months because true colonists celebrated on March 25.
Why? Well once upon a time, the calendar was all over the place. Largely using the Julian calendar (so-named after Julius Caesar), the months were all out of whack with the equinox, trying to figure out when Easter would be was a wreck and countries were left to their own devices to figure out when the New Year technically was, which was a big pain for banking and commerce reasons, as well as for things like rent and paychecks. The British, for example, celebrated the New Year on March 25 which, according to this article, was a traditional Christian holiday marking the conception of Jesus.
Sick of it, in 1582 Pope Gregory created a new calendar and named it after himself. The newly minted Gregorian calendar put everything back into alignment and officially made the New Year Jan. 1, like the Romans used to celebrate. Everyone pretty much agreed this was a good idea, except the British who, like they do, decided they wanted to be different and stuck with the Julian calendar for another two centuries.
This created an interesting situation in the colonies, with British colonists celebrating the New Year on March 25 while colonists from other countries recognized the New Year on Jan. 1. By the time the switch came in 1752, the colonies were integrated enough that the change to the Gregorian calendar was mostly a formality, though it did create another interesting situation in which 11 days in September just disappeared to align everything.
2. Go mumming
If New Year’s Day is a little tame for your tastes, the colonial tradition of mumming might be in order. Popular mostly in Philadelphia but practiced elsewhere, mumming was a New Years Day staple for centuries in the American colonies. In the vein of another New Years tradition of calling on friends and family (more on that later), mummery is when a group of men, known as mummers, would get together in the streets to sing, dance, clown and generally just be rowdy. They’d typically go door-to-door and perform for food or money, essentially as a bribe to make them go away. Over the years, mummery became more and more organized, with mummers clubs forming and official parade routes. In 1901, the city of Philadelphia held its first official mummers parade, an event that has become a huge New Years Day staple into the present.
3. Go wassailing
Also a Christmas tradition in the vein of caroling, wassailing consisted of a group of young women whipping up a big batch of wassail – mulled cider or ale with spices and pieces of toast floating in it – and traveling door-to-door to share it with neighbors and exchange gifts.
If that’s too tame, there was also the relatively obscure practice of “apple howling,” which consisted of heading out into the apple orchard, finding a tree and beating it with sticks while chanting or howling. The practice was meant to bring about a good apple harvest, but it was also probably pretty fun.
4. Go call on your friends
New year, new you and New Years Day was the day to go show it off to all your friends, family and acquaintances. The practice of New Years Day calling was not only popular, but mandatory in the colonies, particularly among the Dutch who took it very seriously. New Years Day was all about cooking up a feast and opening your door to whoever dropped by, and you best believe they were taking notes of who called and who didn’t. The calling was, notably, a chance to settle old differences and arguments on a positive note, so this might be a chance to start over with that uncle you had to block on Facebook.
5. Watch the skies and check your Bible for premonitions
The passing of a new year is ripe for superstitions and the colonists, particularly in New England, were an extremely superstitious bunch. One superstition held that a red sky on New Year’s Day would start the new year off on a bad note, as well as removing anything from a household, particularly fire, which would predict a death in the family.
Another called for Christians to open their Bible first thing on New Year’s Day and point to a random passage or phrase, with the belief that that particular passage would foreshadow how the new year would go. Which, depending on where you opened the Bible, could be absolutely terrifying. Happy New Year!