Happy New Year!

Did you know that pigs were a common Victorian symbol used for New Year’s greetings?  During the 19th Century, farming was still a massive industry, and pigs were a symbol of prosperity. Fat cows, huge pigs, and obese sheep were signs of wealth and became prized as proof of their owners’ success.  

Selective breeding along with new farming and feeding practices produced larger animals.  Rich farmers who tried to improve on existing animal breeds were called “improvers.”  Even Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert became an “improver,” showing off his prize pigs and cattle.

Americans coined the phrase “living high on the hog” in the early 20th Century.  It means enjoying a luxurious lifestyle and refers to the wealthy being able to eat better cuts of pork from “high on the hog” rather than lower, cheaper cuts like pork belly and trotters.

Maybe the prosperity associated with pigs is also linked to the Scottish New Year celebration of “Hog-manay.”  (Hog-mania?)  The 19th Century reign of Queen Victoria shaped the way we celebrate many of our holidays.  Just as we obtained many of our Christmas customs from her husband, Prince Albert, and his Germanic traditions, some of our New Year habits derive from Queen Victoria’s love of the Scottish holiday of Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year celebration.

Because Scots religious leaders banned Christmas celebrations in the 17th century, Christmas didn’t become a public holiday there until 1958. Rather, the Scots celebrated Hogmanay on the first day of the new year. Victorians adopted several Hogmanay customs, including gift-giving and “First Foot.”

“First Foot” is the good luck brought to your home by the first person to cross your threshold after midnight in the New Year.   This person should bring bread, salt, coal, whiskey, and greenery to ensure a prosperous year ahead. But it couldn’t be just any person! No, the best, most lucky first foot to your home was a tall, dark and handsome man. Blonds were considered unlucky (sorry Brad Pitt) and heaven help a woman coming home after midnight before a man came through the door – she’d be left outside until the “First Foot” arrived.   It isn’t hard to imagine a tall, dark handsome man seeing a business opportunity here, and hiring himself out to “First Foot” more than one home for good luck on New Year’s Eve!

Other Hogmanay customs include cleaning your house and hearth prior to New Year’s Eve, the wearing of new clothes on New Year’s Day, throwing a cake against the door to ensure plenty of food on the new year (!), and ensuring that everyone must have some money in their pockets on that day, even children.  Most important, no work should be done on New Year’s Day, especially laundry.

As celebrations moved from New Year’s Eve to the day, gentlemen would pay calls on the single ladies of town and the wealthier homes would open their doors for what we would call an open house. The custom held that whatever you were doing at midnight would continue throughout the year, so socializing was often preferred to staying home alone. Food and beverage would be served at the open houses and social calls, to keep the celebrations going.

Here in Jacksonville, New Year’s Eve celebrations included many balls, costume and otherwise, in places such as the Franco-American Hotel, Veit Schutz Hall, the U.S. Hotel and even the Applegate schoolhouse. Tickets to the balls were sold to raise money or pay for the celebrations, including “whole” tickets, to the actual party goers, and “spectator” tickets for those who wished to (or could afford to) observe but not participate. New Year 1883 was rung in at a costume ball with over 230 tickets sold, and music and dancing past 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Gift-giving at New Year’s was also a tradition here in Jacksonville, at least based upon some of the advertising in the Oregon Sentinel in the late 1870s. The New York Store advertised not only Christmas but also New Year’s toys at half price. Another shop advised that for a happy new year, customers should buy a nice sewing machine for the woman in their life, and the editors of the Oregon Sentinel were sure to thank Peter Britt who gifted a bottle of white wine to them for New Year’s.

New Year’s Eve celebrations here were not limited to folks attending the many balls. Jacksonville ushered in 1880 amid “the shooting of anvils and guns, the explosion of firecrackers, and the ringing of the school bell.   The report of artillery, the loud huzzah’s and other hilarious evidences in the streets, were a reminder to the sleepers that 1879 was no more forever.” In 1888, the ringing of bells and exploding of bombs was the first indication of the arrival of the New Year to the people of Jacksonville.

On New Year’s Day, social calls were made around town, and an “ordinary” Jacksonville New Year’s Day was described in 1873 as one where saloons “kept their eggnog, and young folks lavish the customary ‘Happy New Year’ tribute,” and homes were open for callers.

Our common custom of New Year’s Resolutions appears in 1885, when the papers reported that new resolutions are formed each New Year, albeit in the form of an advertisement for buying insurance from Jeremiah Nunan.

We also share with the Victorians the same New Year wishes and hopes, as expressed in the Oregon Sentinel, that “every intelligent man and woman, both old and young, will contribute his and her part toward making 1880 a period of peace, prosperity and plenty.”

May 2023 be peaceful, prosperous, healthy, and filled with good will toward all!   



“Hogmanay & the Victorian New Year.” Wright, 7 Jan. 2018, www.sandrawagnerwright.com/hogmanay-the-victorian-new-year/. 

VictorianWannaBe, Gina @. A Victorian New Year, 1 Jan. 1970, victorianwannab.blogspot.com/2012/12/a-victorian-new-year.html. 

Oregon Sentinel, 7 Jan. 1880; 24 Dec. 1879; 4 Jan. 1873; 8 Jan 1879; 21 Dec. 1867; 5 Jan 1888; 28 Dec. 1867; 6 Jan. 1883; 3 Jan. 1885. 


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