Just as in the 21st century, many 19th-century periodicals included New Year’s addresses to their patrons. In 1838, Parley’s Magazine greeted subscribers with a heart-felt wish for the new year and a little discussion of European Christmas and Twelfth-Day traditions. Christmas was, at this time, taking on the child-centered, nostalgia-oriented focus familiar to us—the nostalgia is reinforced here by an excerpt from “Marmion,” by Sir Walter Scott (1808), on what Christmas meant in England. Parley’s editors, however, began the year right, by reminding their young readers of their responsibilities to their families, to themselves—and to their magazine. The charming little rhyme that opens the piece appeared in Robert Merry’s Museum, at the head of their New Year’s greeting for 1854.

New Year’s address, 1838 (from Parley’s Magazine, January 1838; pp. 11-13)
a little girl from the 1830s shows you a book

I wish you all a happy New Year,

Plenty of books, and very good cheer.

My dear young friends,

Here we are again, all alive, I hope, and happy and well, and none the worse for the years gone by, and all the better prepared to start off for another race through eighteen hundred and thirty-eight. Here is the beginning of a new volume of my famous magazine, which has been circulating for five years past to the north and the south, the east, and the west, and carrying pleasure and delight to thousands of little readers, ay, and to great ones too I hope, and diffusing agreeable reading among the regular routine of school pursuits. Yes, I think I may say, to six thousand full, have I sent my parts and numbers and volumes; and if I am to judge by the continued sales, the work is not lessened in the esteem of any of you. I mean to go on another year, if you will go with me, and I have prepared a great deal of interesting reading, both original and select, to entertain you with, and the usual quantity of wood cuts and engravings to embellish and illustrate the matter. Sundry ladies and gentlemen have agreed to contribute many little things which I may require, and by these means I can perhaps give a still greater scope to the interest of the work.

While I am taking all pains to excite in you good actions and elevated thoughts, and endeavouring to expel from your mind all selfishness and low deeds; while I am trying to impress on

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your memory the remarkable events of old times and the passing occurrences of the present, let me beg of you to reward me by rendering to your parents an open, manly, cheerful pe[r]formance of all your duties and tasks, be they agreeable or not; mind their counsels; be constant and regular in school; love your teachers; learn your lessons; play in play hours with hearty zeal and good nature; never quarrel, but pass over all little affronts; read my magazine all through; pay for it regularly; and then if you do not grow up likely men and women, I lose my guess entirely.

And now for a word about Christmas and New Year’s Day. I think it is a good thing to have some days set apart every year to remind us how fast time speeds away. The festival of Christmas, one of the greatest events that ever took place, and which occurs one week before New Year’s Day, is duly observed in the old countries by all manner of amusements and rejoicings, which are carried on through the New Year’s week to the 6th day of January, and this is called Twelfth Day, being twelve days from Christmas, which concludes the festival.

There is an old and singular custom, in various parts of Europe, and often practised in our own country, which takes place on the eve of Twelfth Day or Epiphany, and is performed in the following manner. A cake made of rich materials, and large enough to share among all the company, is brought in and divided into as many shares as there are persons present. These pieces, one of which conceals a bean lodged in the outer part of the cake, are tossed up in a napkin. The youngest person in the company comes forward, and having said grace, takes hold of a slice without looking at it, and then addresses the master of the house by these words; “Fabæ Domine, (lord of the bean) who is this for?” An answer is given, and when all the shares are drawn, the guest who finds the bean in his or her possession is declared king or queen of the feast, and becomes possessed of all the rights belonging to the president for the night. When either drinks, if any one in the company neglects to say aloud, “the king” or “the queen drinks,” a fine is lawfully exacted, which consists in a pledge deposited in the hands of some one, to be redeemed after supper by a kiss or a song. Many families in our country have parties on this day, and bake a large cake, putting a gold ring into it instead of a bean, which becomes the property of the lucky one who draws the slice.

But let us go back to Christmas Day again. St. Gregory calls it the ‘festival of festivals,’ and another saint, the ‘chief of all festivals.’ It is consecrated in the Romish church; but almost all persons observe it now. The following lines give a vivid and faithful porrait of ancient Christmas ceremonies, as all old England used to practise in times gone by.

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On Christmas eve the bells were rung;

On Christmas eve the mass was sung;

That only night, in all the year,

Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.

The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;

The hall was dressed with holy green;

Forth to the wood did merry men go,

To gather in the mistletoe.

Then opened wide the baron’s hall

To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;

Power laid his rod of rule aside,

And ceremony doffed his pride;

The heir, with roses in his shoes,

That night might village partner choose;

The lord, underogating, share

The vulgar game of ‘post and pair.’

All hailed with uncontrolled delight,

And general voice, the happy night,

That to the cottage, as the crown,

Brought tidings of salvation down.

The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,

Went roaring up the chimney wide;

The huge hall-table’s oaken face,

Scrubbed till it shone, the day to grace,

Bore then upon its massive board

No mark to part the ‘squire and lord.

Then was brought in the lusty brawn

By old blue-coated serving-man;

Then the grim boar’s-head frowned on high,

Crested with bays and rosemary.

The wassail round in good brown bowls

Garnished with ribbons, blithely trowls;

There the huge sirloin reeked; hard by

Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;

Nor failed old Scotland to produce,

At such high tide, her savoury goose.

Then came the merry maskers in,

And carols roared with blithesome din;

If unmelodious was the song,

It was a hearty note, and strong.

Who lists may in their mumming see

Traces of antient mystery;

White shirts supplied the masquerade,

And smutted cheeks the visors made;

But, O, what maskers richly dight

Can boast of bosoms half so light

England was merry England, when

Old Christmas brought his sports again.

’Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale;

’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;

A Christmas gambol oft could cheer

The poor man’s heart through half the year.

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