THE most important holidays of the early years of the colony were, apparently, New Year’s Day and May Day, for we find them named through frequent legislation about rioting on these days, repairing of damages, etc. It has been said that New Yorkers owe to the Dutch an everlasting gratitude for our high-stoop houses and the delights of over two centuries of New Year’s calling. The latter custom lived long and happily in our midst, died a lingering and lamented death, is still much honored in our memory, and its extinction deeply deplored and unwillingly accepted.
The observance of New Year’s Day was, without doubt, followed by both Dutch and English from the earliest settlement. We know that Governor Stuyvesant received New Year’s calls, and we also know that he prohibited excessive “drunken drinking,” unnecessary firing of guns, and all disorderly behavior on that day. The reign of the English did not abolish New Year’s visits; and we find Charles Wolley, an English chaplain, writing in his journal in New York in 1701, of the addition of the English custom of exchange of gifts:—
“The English in New York observed one anniversary custom and that without superstition, I mean the strenarum commercium, as Suetonius calls them, a neighborly commerce of presents every New Year’s Day. Some would send me a sugar-loaf, some a pair of gloves, some a bottle or two of wine.”
A further celebration of the day by men in New York was by going in parties to Beekman’s Swamp to shoot at turkeys.
New Year’s calling was a new fashion to General Washington when he came to New York to live for a short time, but he adopted it with approval; and his New Year’s Receptions were imposing functions.