CHAPTER XXVI.NEW-YEAR’S CALLS.


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“Le jour de l’an,” as the French call the first day of January, is indeed the principal day of the year to those who still keep up the custom of calling and receiving calls. But in New York it is a custom which is in danger of falling into desuetude, owing to the size of the city and the growth of its population. There are, however, other towns and “much country” (as the Indians say) outside of New York, and there are still hospitable boards at which the happy and the light-hearted, the gay and the thoughtful, may meet and exchange wishes for a happy New-Year.

To those who receive calls we would say that it is well, if possible, to have every arrangement made two or three days before New-Year’s, as the visiting begins early–sometimes at eleven o’clock–if the caller means to make a goodly day. A lady should have her hair dressed for the day when she rises, and if her dress be not too elaborate she should put it on then, so that she may be in the drawing-room when the first visitor arrives. In regard to the question of dress, we should say that for elderly ladies black satin or velvet, or any of the combination dresses so fashionable now, with handsome lace, and Swedish gloves of

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pearl or tan color (not white kids; these are decidedly rococo, and not in fashion), would be appropriate. A black Satin, well made, and trimmed with beaded passementerie, is perhaps the handsomest dress that could be worn by any one. Brocaded silk, plain gros grain, anything that a lady would wear at the wedding reception of her daughter is suitable, although a plain dress is in better taste.

For young ladies nothing is so pretty as a dress of light cashmere and silk, cut high at the throat. These dresses, in the very pretty tints worn now, are extremely becoming, warm-looking, and appropriate for a reception, when the door is being often opened. White dresses of thick silk or cashmere, trimmed around the neck with lace, are also very elegant. In all countries young married women are allowed to be as magnificent as a picture of Marie de Medici, and can wear on New-Year’s day rose-colored and white brocaded silks, with pearl trimmings, or plain ciel blue, or prawn-colored silk over white, or embossed velvet, or what they please, so that the dress is cut high, and has sleeves to the elbow. Each lady should have near her an ermine cloak, or a small camel’s-hair shawl in case of draughts. It is not good taste to wear low-necked or sleeveless dresses during the day-time. They are worn by brides on their wedding-day sometimes, but at receptions or on New-Year’s day scarcely ever.

While much magnificence is permissible, still a plain black or dark silk dress, if well made, with fresh ruffles at neck and wrists, is quite as proper as anything else, and men generally admire it more. But where a

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lady has several daughters to receive with her, she should study the effect of her rooms, and dress the young ladies in prettily contrasting colors. This may be cheaply done by using the soft, fine merinoes, which are to be had in all the delicate and fashionable shades. Short dresses of this material are much used; but now that imported dresses are so easily obtained, a mother with many daughters to dress cannot do better than buy costumes similar to those worn by economical French ladies on their jour de l’an. One article of dress is de rigeur. With whatever style of costume gloves must be worn.

A lady who expects to have many calls, and who wishes to offer refreshments, should have hot tea and coffee and a bowl of punch on a convenient table; or, better still, a silver kettle filled with bouillon standing in the hall, so that a gentleman coming in or going out can take a cup of it unsolicited. If she lives in an English basement house, this table can be in the lower dining-room. In a house three rooms deep the table and all the refreshments can be in the usual dining-room or in the upper back-parlor. Of course, her “grand spread” can be as gorgeous as she pleases. Hot oysters, salads, boned turkey, quail, and hot terrapin, with wines ad libitum, are offered by the wealthy; but this is a difficult table to keep in order when ten men call at one o’clock, and forty at four, and none between. The best table is one which is furnished with boned turkey, jellied tongues, and pâtés, sandwiches, and similar dishes, with cake and fruit as decorative additions. The modern and admirable adjunct of a spirit-lamp under a teakettle keeps the bouillon,

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tea, and coffee always hot, and these, with the teacups necessary to serve them, should be on a small table at one side. A maid-servant, neatly dressed, should be in constant attendance on this table, and a man-servant or two will be needed to attend the door and to wait at table.

The man at the door should have a silver tray or card-basket in which to receive the cards of visitors. If a gentleman is not known to the lady of the house, he sends in his card; otherwise he leaves it with the waiter, who deposits it in some receptacle where it should be kept until the lady has leisure to examine the cards of all her guests. If a gentleman is calling on a young lady, and is not known to the hostess, he sends in his card to the former, who presents him to the hostess and to all the ladies present. If the room is full, an introduction to the hostess only is necessary. If the room is comparatively empty, it is much kinder to present a gentleman to each lady, as it tends to make conversation general. As a guest is about to depart, he should be invited to take some refreshment, and be conducted towards the dining-room for that purpose. This hospitality should never be urged, as man is a creature who dines, and is seldom willing to allow a luncheon to spoil a dinner. In a country neighborhood, however, or after a long walk, a visitor is almost always glad to break his fast and enjoy a pickled oyster, a sandwich, or a cup of bouillon.

The etiquette of New-Year’s day commands, peremptorily, that a gentleman shall not be asked to take off his overcoat nor to be relieved of his hat. He will probably prefer to wear his overcoat, and to carry his

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hat in his hand during his brief visit. If he wishes to dispose of either, he will do so in the hall; but on that point he is a free moral agent, and it is not a part of the duty of a hostess to suggest what he shall do with his clothes.

Many letters come to us asking “What subjects should be talked about during a New-Year’s call.” Alas ! we can only suggest the weather and the good wishes appropriate to the season. The conversation is apt to be fragmentary. One good mot was evolved a few years ago, when roads were snowy and ways were foul. A gentleman complained of the mud and the dirty streets. “Yes,” said the lady, “but it is very bright overhead.” “I am not going that way,” replied the gentleman.

A gentleman should not be urged to stay when he calls. He has generally but five minutes in which to express a desire that old and pleasant memories shall be continued, that new and cordial friendships shall be formed, and after that compliment, which every wall-bred man pays a lady, “How remarkably well you are looking to-day !” he wishes to be off.

In France it is the custom for a gentleman to wear a dress-coat when calling on a great public functionary on New-Year’s day, but it is not so in America. Here he should, wear the dress in which he would make an ordinary morning visit. When he enters a room he should not remove his gloves, nor should he say, as he greets his hostess, “Excuse my glove.” He should take her gloved hand in his and give it a cordial pressure, according to our pleasant American fashion. When leaving, the ceremony is very brief–

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simply, “Good-morning,” or “Good-evening,” as the case may be.

It is proper for gentlemen to call late in the evening of New-Year’s day, and calls are made during the ensuing evenings by people who are otherwise occupied in the daytime. If the family are at dinner, or the lady is fatigued with the day’s duties, the servant must say at the door that Mrs.–desires to be excused. He must not present the card to her, and thus oblige her to send to her visitor a message which might be taken as a personal affront. But she must have the servant instructed to refuse all at certain hours; then none can be offended.

Many ladies in New York are no longer “at home” on New-Year’s day; and when this is the case a basket is tied at the door to receive cards. They do this because so many gentlemen have given up the custom of calling that it seems to be dying out, and all their preparations for a reception become a hollow mockery. How many weary women have sat with novel in hand and luncheon-table spread, waiting for the callers who did not come! The practice of sending cards to gentlemen, stating that a lady would be at home on New-Year’s day, has also very much gone out of fashion, owing to the fact that gentlemen frequently did not respond to them.

It is, however, proper that a married lady returning to her home after a long absence in Europe, or one who has changed her residence, or who is living at a hotel or boarding-house (or who is visiting friends), should send her card to those gentlemen whom she wishes to receive. It must be remembered

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that many gentlemen, generally those no longer young, still like very much the fashion of visiting on New-Year’s day, and go to see as many people as they can in a brief winter’s sunshine. These gentlemen deplore the basket at the door, and the decadence of the old custom in New York. Family friends and old friends, those whom they never see at any other time, are to be seen–or they should be seen, so these old friends think–on New-Year’s day.

A personal call is more agreeable than a card. Let a gentleman call, and in person, or take no notice of the day. So say the most trustworthy authorities, and their opinion has an excellent foundation of common-sense.

Could we only go back to the old Dutch town where the custom started, where all animosities were healed, all offences forgotten, on New-Year’s day, when the good Dutch housewives made their own cakes and spiced the loving-cup, when all the women stayed at home to receive and all the men called, what a different New-Year’s day we should enjoy in New York. Nowadays, two or three visitors arrive before the hostess is ready to receive them; then one comes after she has appeared, vanishes, and she remains alone for two hours; then forty come. She remembers none of their names, and has no rational or profitable conversation with any of them.

But for the abusers of New-Year’s day, the pretenders who, with no right to call, come in under cover of the general hospitality of the season–the bores, who on this day, as on all days, are only tiresome–we have no salve, no patent cure. A hostess must receive them

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with the utmost suavity, and be as amiable and agreeable as possible.

New-Year’s day is a very brilliant one at Washington. All the world calls on the President at twelve o’clock; the diplomats in full dress, officers of the army and navy in full uniform, and the other people grandly attired. Later, the heads of departments, cabinet ministers, judges, etc., receive the lesser lights of society.

In Paris the same etiquette is observed, and every clerk calls on his chief.

In a small city or village etiquette manages itself, and ladies have only to let it be known that they will be at home, with hot coffee and oysters, to receive the most agreeable kind of callers–those who come because they really wish to pay a visit, to express goodwill, and to ask for that expression of friendship which our reserved Anglo-Saxon natures are so prone to withhold.

In New York a few years ago the temperance people made a great onslaught on ladies who invited young men to drink on New-Year’s day. It was said to lead to much disorder and intemperance; and so, from fear of causing one’s brother to sin, many have banished the familiar punch-bowl. In a number of well-known houses in New York no luncheon is offered, and a cup of bouillon or coffee and a sandwich is the usual refreshment in the richest and most stylish houses. It will be seen, therefore, that it is a day of largest liberty. There are no longer any sumptuary laws; but it is impossible to say why ladies of the highest fashion in New York do not still make it a

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gala-day. The multiplicity of other entertainments, the unseen yet all-powerful influence of fashion, these things mould the world insensibly. Yet in a thousand homes, thousands of cordial hands will be extended on the great First of January, and to all of them we wish a Happy New Year.

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