Friday, January 7, 2022

Happy New Year! by Eileen O'Finlan


I'm sometimes asked why there is no mention of Christmas in either Kelegeen or Erin's Children. The answer is simple. In Kelegeen the characters are too busy trying not to starve to death during Ireland's Great Hunger to celebrate Christmas and in Erin's Children which is set in Massachusetts, the holiday wasn't much celebrated. While the time period for Erin's Children, the 1850s, saw the establishment of Christmas as a holiday in Massachusetts (in 1856) it would still be a while before it got much real attention. Thanksgiving was the really big holiday at the time (you'll find three of them in Erin's Children!) along with George Washington's birthday and the 4th of July. New Year's was also celebrated though not with the same fanfare we associate with the holiday today.

Before 1752 New Years was celebrated on March 25th, the date when the new year started according to the Julian calendar. In colonial times young ladies prepared bowls of wassail and went "wassailing." The word comes from Middle English and means "health to you." The drink consisted of mulled ale or cider and sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and other spices and little bits of toast floating on top. It was also customary to give small gifts on New Years. In the 18th century these gifts were usually oranges decorated with ribbon and spiked with cloves. By the 19th century people began exchanging other gifts, though they were still just small tokens. 

In my current work-in-progress, sixteen year old Jerusha Kendall is given a diary for New Years in 1838. What she writes in it throughout the year piques the interest of Charlotte Lajoie, a folklorist and one of Jerusha's descendants, who uses it to uncover a long-hidden family secret. Thank goodness for New Years presents.



  1. Thanks for sharing, Eileen. Each country, each region has its own traditions. It's only in the last century that Christmas was commercialized.

  2. It's interesting what we find out when we look into the origin of different celebrations. Now you got me curious about the long-hidden family secret...

  3. Glad to hear you're hard at work in your two time period novel, Eileen. I love those when they are done well. And I'm sure yours will be! Happy writing!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blog Archive