The custom of paying New Year’s calls originated in New York, or as it was then styled, New Amsterdam, where the Dutch held open house on New Year’s Day and served cherry bounce, olykoeks [doughnuts] steeped in rum, cookies, and honey cakes. (Notice that these treats are all sweet, not unlike the Jewish custom of serving sliced apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah to represent the anticipated sweetness of the new year.)
My source is the American Heritage Cookbook, so it probably bears some weight scholastically, but personally I doubt that the custom is that new. If it was a Dutch custom, wouldn’t you think it started in the Old Country?
Anyway, the point is that from New York the custom spread throughout the country, and this being a rambunctious young country, the custom sometimes got out of hand. White House open houses in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries gave the great unwashed an opportunity to wring the President’s hand, and coincidentally trash the “people’s house”. This had been happening since Andrew Jackson’s notorious inaugural open house in 1832 in which an enormous wheel of cheese (among other things) turned out to be inadequate to feed the thousands of well-wishers, who rioted, rendering the mansion’s East Room a complete shambles, shredding the drapes, grinding cheese curds into the carpet and damaging first floor windowsills as citizens scrambled through them to bypass the blocks-long reception line.
Many subsequent presidents endured the ordeal of shaking the hands of all comers in an endless New Year’s Day reception line, resulting in bruised and swollen hands. You’d think that they would learn. Lincoln famously fretted that his signature on the Emancipation Proclamation, following several hours in the traditional New Year’s reception line, might appear shaky to future historians, suggesting a wavering of his resolve. (He waited for the swelling to subside before stroking his famous moniker on the historic document without a trace of hesitation.)
But mostly the New Year’s Open House is a hospitable gesture intended to strengthen friendships, and they say that in the travel business, you don’t make a sale, you make a friend. So true.
So in the spirit of the early Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam who opened their homes to their neighbors, I’d like to extend to you my best wishes for the coming year with an invitation to join us in 2014 for the adventure of a lifetime – if not on one of our Western adventures, on a TAP Guaranteed Departure to hundreds of exciting destinations around the world.
We look forward to serving you in the months ahead.
See you on the trail!
This month’s Trail Talk is sponsored by:
Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. She is a frequent presenter at numerous history conferences and trade association meetings and is a regular contributor to ABA’s Insider online magazine. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.