Catholic Flemish New Year (1843) Through The Eyes Of An English Visitor

On New Year’s Day every body must visit every body, to wish them happiness for the New Year. Not to visit any one on New Year’s Day, or as soon as possible afterwards, is to indicate your wish to relinquish that person’s society. Presents of little sweet cakes are given by each visitor, called cakes of congratulation.

The rule is for the inferior to visit the superior first. An elder Priest is visited first by a younger. Trades-people visit their customers. The poor visit the rich. Children their grandmothers, godmothers, and godfathers, or any one to whom they owe in any way allegiance. The whole parish visits the Pastor.

Our visitors are too sincerely kind, to allow of their being sent away empty-handed; and their great joy being to receive something of our own making, of English invention, and if possible, of English material, we make it a rule to devote the leisure of Christmas week to preparing a large assortment of trifles. Our week’s work is, therefore, laid out. Adieu till I find time to describe to you our lukie days, or days of congratulation.

Jan. 1, 1843.—The evening of this very busy day I sit down, faithful to my intention, to give you an account of it.

I am very tired, having been in incessant occupation from five this morning, at which hour I rose in order to be ready at six to receive my first visitors, the children from the farm. I have forgotten to tell you that all godmothers, and grandmothers, and such dignitaries, have the advantage of being roused from their morning sleep by their grandchildren and godchildren, should they have the good fortune to reside in their neighbourhood.

It is considered as a real sorrow to those children who are too late’to announce the New Year to Mwrri (?) in person, waking them out’of their sleep, by throwing gauffres (the little cakes) on their bed. We being the only near neighbours to the farm, it is the privilege of Our little wooden-shoed rosy pets to make the announcement to us.

We agreeing not to know any thing about New Year’s having arrived, or that there is such a person in the world as New Year, till they come to tell us, if they will only let us get up without being waked oat of our sleep, and be down stairs ready to receive them. “Mother” would keep them till daylight, fearing they might arouse us before agreeable} but the ceremony would lose half its charm, and we always beg they may be allowed to come as soon as they see the lights from our windows.

For this they, therefore, duly look out, and came this morning laughing through the star-light at six o’clock. Each little hand was filled with gauffres, and as there is a goodly group of kind Coleta’s little odes, my lap was literally filled by the ‘time I had received all, and enough of innocent congratulation to make me happy for the year.

Our little bazaar was lighted ready for their reception. Our own productions of the week were handsomely added to by a kind present I had received from England, of cotton work-bags, lengths of coloured prints, and gay handkerchiefs; which I dare say you think all very trifling, arid not worth wriling about; but you would not say so, had you lived for several years out of England. I longed to keep them all for myself, and thought England had never produced such pretty things while I lived there. Hung about the walls, arid festooned, they gave,’what we humble Belgians, one and all, thought, quite a splendid appearance to the room, and to the tables filled, with our own productions.

My little friends were led out of the room to choose a New Year’s Gift, and before they had made their choice others arrived, keeping” up in succession till eight o’clock, which Was church-time.

The principal parishioners go the first thing into the sacristy to congratulate the Pastor. On our return our elder neighbours began to come, and cakes of congratulation and other refreshments were given to them, leaving us not one moment’s time till half-past ten, the time of the second Mass. At twelve the service over, we dined in quiet, as every body Was dinningg also; but at one new guests arrived.

At this time the pastor’s house is besieged. The gates and doors stand open, and people! and cakes pour in as a stream; “At two are Vespers, which when over, we called on the Priests who livte near enough to be visited that day. Found them all full of visitors: we received presents of cake and took refreshment: quite impossible to refuse on such a day.

We then hurried home to receive the cleric, whom we had appointed to come at dusk with a little orbhan niece he is kindly breeding up. Little Laodie’ came with her uncle, and was much amused With all ” the pretty English things,” from which, she was desired to select one; and liked apples much better than cakes, of which she seemed heartily tired, ‘its’ I think we all were.

Our kind Pastor has just been in, fatigued as he was, to ‘show us the attention of this indispensable visit. As soon as he could be released from his own guests, his next duty was to visit the elder Priests, and then to deceive them, and thus had only just returned.

These days are most fatiguing, but very delightful, and I do not think any one would exchange them against the rest they might enjoy by shutting themselves up and seeing no one on this day of mutual kindness and christian good fellowship. Our church encourages all this social feeling; but I must not begin to talk about the church, for, as you must perceive, I am almost asleep, and by no means able to moralize. So I will conclude by wishing you a Flemish New Year; that is, “I wish you a holy and happy New Year of salvation, and many following years, should it be for your salvation.”

 

Source: The Catholic weekly instructor, or, Miscellany of religious, instructive and entertaining knowledge, 1844

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