I was intrigued by the entry in Granny’s diary for 31 December 1937: “Alf and I saw the old year out.” Intrigued, because these days we tend to talk about ‘seeing the New Year in’ rather than the ‘old year out’.
The turning of the year, however, has been celebrated since early times, with gifts being exchanged at New Year rather than at Christmas up until the nineteenth century. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the whole twelve days of Christmas (finishing on 6th January – Epiphany) were important, whereas today 6th January is fairly insignificant in this country, although in other countries the 6th January is the main day for the exchange of presents, mirroring the bringing of gifts by the Wise Men. Although superstition has it that you must take your decorations down on or before 6th January, it seems that many people have done so a long time before that and seem to think you odd if you wish them a ‘happy Christmas’ after the 25th December!
Mum was recalling going to a New Year’s Eve function with my Dad at The Parrot pub in Guildford, possibly just before they were married. Dad had a little Bubble Car in those days and she remembers it was very frosty when they came out. Often we have either been to friends or had friends and family to us on New Year’s Eve. At Christmas we were remembering the Millenium, just before my niece was born. The long evening had all got a bit much for our 5 year old: we woke her up at midnight so that she could see in the new millenium, but I’m not sure that she thought much of that idea at the time!
Unusually, this year we decided not to either see the old year out or the new year in, but we did enjoy the company of good friends who came to us for lunch on New Year’s Day, after we had watched the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna on the TV. On the 1st January 1938 my grandparents also enjoyed the company of friends: “Mary and Jack came to tea 5.30 and spent a jolly evening. Rings and cribbage. Left 11.45.”
I was curious to know how my grandparents spent New Year in other years, so decided to open a few more diaries. At the end of 1938 I read “Mary and Jack came to tea and saw the old year out with us”. By that time the following year Britain was at war. My Granny, Mum and Aunt stayed on in Cowfold following their summer holiday there, but returned to Croydon to spend Christmas. “Saw the old year out together”. By the end of 1941 the family had moved to Guildford, after the bombing became too much in Croydon. “Alf and I sat up and saw old year out”.
I then picked up the 1975 diary. Now aged 87, my Granny had been a widow for almost 3 years and earlier that year had had an operation to remove a cataract from one eye, which was not the routine procedure that it is nowadays. I have to say that the entry for 31 December in this year brought a tear to my eye: “I left [Betty’s house] after a very happy Christmas holiday, with a thankful heart for all this past year had brought me… Sat in my dressing gown and listened to a watch-night service, from Kingsbury London, and so saw the old year out and the new year in. Thanks be to God”.
Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!