Several years ago, I decided to get smarter about handling the rush of the holiday season, and started sending New Year's cards. By New Year's Day, the frenzy of shopping, wrapping, decorating and merrymaking is over and done with, and I can write a nice note to family and friends wishing them the best for the coming year.
What seemed like a novel idea to me, and the people who got my "post holiday" cards, is actually an old tradition. At the turn of the 20th century, sending New Year's greetings in the form of a postcard or greeting card was quite popular. New Year's postcard, circa 1915 (left).
Many of the traditions and superstitions of ringing in the New Year are pictured on postcards.
This German postcard from 1905 was sent from Chicago, and portrays a pig and monk dancing on a keg of beer. The pig (especially in Austrian tradition) foretells a year filled with fortune and good luck, as do the clovers. The keg of beer and dancing represent the festivities surrounding the New Year. Postcard from the Dorothy Gleiser Collection, 1905 (73.9.99).
This American New Year's greeting is one of my favorite New Year's cards in the collection—mainly because of the cat, but also because it's such a dynamic greeting for the New Year. Of course, the bottle of bubbly represents celebration, but the loud pop of the cork has the added benefit of scaring away evil spirits. Postcard from the Dorothy Gleiser Collection, 1906 (73.9.99).
Noise making stems from Old World tales that evil spirits hover near as the New Year approaches. The noise of blowing whistles and horns, ringing bells, and popping champagne corks, all ward off impending danger.
This design of the "year" festooned with four-leaf clovers was easily understood by the recipient as a wish for good luck throughout the coming year. Year date postcards were particularly popular between 1908-1912. Postcard from the Dorothy Gleiser Collection, 1907 (73.9.99).
There is a lot of symbolism in this 1908 Swiss New Year's postcard. It was sent from a relation in Frauenfeld, Switzerland to Lizzie Schlager in Waukegan, Illinois.
The child with the broom and ladder is a chimney sweep and represents sweeping away the pains and tribulations of the past year and beginning with a clean slate. Also pictured is a red and white mushroom and horse shoe, both symbols of good fortune. And of course, the clock's hands are on twelve, striking midnight to ring in the New Year. Lizzie Schlager Collection, 1908 (61.8.300).
This stunning colorized photo postcard is from Lundsbrunn, Sweden. The children represent renewal, much like babies (versus an "Old Man" the symbol of the past year). The four-leaf clovers, horse shoe and bag of money are all representations of good fortune and plenty, while the number "1" is for January 1st and a new beginning. Postcard 1915 (LCHA).
This is the back of the Swedish postcard, showing that it is addressed to Miss Alice Carlsson of Waukegan.
Any combination of the symbols seen above were employed to make an appealing New Year's wish. Additionally, you might see a stork carrying a baby (rebirth), a couple kissing (good luck to celebrate the first few minutes of the New Year with the one you love), shooting stars (induces prosperity), and elves with red hats ("Tomtens" for good fortune and popular with the Pennsylvania Dutch).
The museum's archival collections hold approximately 160 postcards related to the New Year.