Prince Albert may have contributed the Tannenbuam to Victorian Christmas. The queen did him one better with a holiday even more prominent: Hogmanay.
The Scottish new year celebration gifted England with hundreds of bizarre superstitions and cultural rituals.
Without further ado, VTC presents the Top 10 Victorian New Years’ Traditions:
New Year’s Eve was no extraordinary affair among Victorian high society. But New Year’s Day was marked by a marathon of social traditions. Wealthy Victorians would hold open houses, inviting all the local eligible bachelors into their homes to meet their unmarried daughters. What ensued was not unlike modern-day “speed-dating.” A young man would likely receive invitations from a number of households and would spend 15 minutes or so chatting with the resident young woman (or women) therein before moving on to his next engagement.
Some gentlemen scholars only wish to partake in libations with no interest toward conversation. Eventually, the affair was stipulated by invitation.
2. Phantom Balls
Victorians of the middle class would attend what were known as “Phantom Balls.” These were parties which called for ghostly costumes, card games, and even a bit of football for the men.
3. New Clothes
A new suit of clothing was worn on the first of the year to symbolize fresh beginnings and a leaving behind of all the past year’s hardships.
Take a page from yesteryear before ringing in the new! Read Victorian New Years Eve traditions & superstitions – Click to Tweet
At midnight on New Years’ Eve, bells were rung to symbolize good’s victory over evil and to bring hope for peace and happiness in the year ahead.
5. The Threshold
The threshold bore particular significance among Victorians. It was held to represent the crossing from one year to the next. At the stroke of midnight, the front door was flung open and one greeted the new year with shouts of “Welcome! Welcome!” Then the head of the household would throw a cake against the door to ensure a year without hunger.
Furthermore, the first person to cross the threshold after midnight was believed to foretell the family’s fortune for the year. If this person came bearing gifts (usually of coal, spices, sweets, and whiskey), this was seen as a sure sign of prosperity for the year ahead. If it was a dark-haired male, good fortune lay ahead. If it was a blonde, troubles loomed.
6. Clover & Swine
As the Victorians did for all special holidays and occasions, postcards were sent to loved ones bearing well wishes. Pigs and clover were considered bearers of good fortune and thus were often featured in the illustrations of New Year tidings.
Sending cards and small gifts of fruit, spices, and money were thought to be practices that would encourage the generosity of the Fates in the coming year.
8. Hearth & Fire
Cleaning out the ashes from the hearth was to be done on New Year’s Eve as a sign of sweeping away all the past year’s ills and ushering in the new year with a clean slate. Additionally, one was not to leave the house on New Year’s Day holding any kind of flame, be it candle or lamp.
Ring in the new year with these Victorian traditions & superstitions. – Click to Tweet
9. Pocket Money
Victorians were sure to have a bit of money in their pockets on New Year’s Day in order to ward against poverty and misfortune in the new year.
As sport, Victorians would playfully predict one another’s fortunes for the new year by interpreting each other’s tea leaves and engaging in bibliomancy, by which one opened a book (particularly the Bible) and read aloud the first passage that came into sight.
What of your New Year’s Eve traditions? Might you hold to any superstitions?