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Dayhoff: After Christmas celebrations — Carroll County’s New Year’s traditions and memories

A New Year's card from 1905 is shown.
A New Year's card from 1905 is shown. (Courtesy Historical Society of Carroll County)

As the 2019 Christmas and Hanukkah holidays come to a close, hopefully everyone has recovered from the “shock and awe” of spending the holidays with members of your extended families, calmly discussing all your political differences, and putting together the “some assembly required” toys.

With any luck, you remembered that when all else fails, read the directions. Or do it the way your wife told you to do it. As for those new tech items from Santa, find a teenager. And, of course, be sure to save all the big boxes in which the more expensive gifts arrived. The boxes will provide your children with countless hours of fun and pleasure.

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Wednesday is New Year’s Day. A friend recently reminded me that New Year’s is when “an optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” I’m an eternal optimist and always look forward to new opportunities.

With regard to New Year’s Eve, I recognize that folks celebrate it in many different ways. In recent years, I have celebrated by sleeping on the couch. I doze through all the banalities and banter of the TV personalities as they feign frivolity and I awaken briefly as the ball drops in Times Square.

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I have researched and written about the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in Carroll County for many years — portions of this column have been published before. Traditionally, New Year’s celebrations in Westminster included church services, weddings, family reunions, theme parties, and dances.

On Jan. 8, 1898 a local newspaper, the American Sentinel reported, “The New Year, 1898, was greeted in Westminster by the firing of guns [and] the ringing of bells ...”

I am fairly certain that Westminster Police Chief Tom Ledwell, Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees, and State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo would heartily disapprove of "the firing of guns" as part of the celebrations in Carroll County. However, it is a well-accepted tradition that loud noises frighten away the evil spirits. This is why noisemakers are used to ring in the New Year.

The very early Roman calendar used March 1 as New Year’s Day. If you think about it, this was only logical because it is the beginning of spring, when we slowly emerge from the dead of winter to signs of a new beginning. In 153 BC, the Romans moved New Year’s Day to Jan.1. Rather than tie the day to some significant astronomical or agricultural event, the Romans selected it for civil reasons. It was the day after elections in which the newly elected officials assumed their positions.

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Giving and sharing have long been a part of Westminster’s New Year’s tradition. On Jan. 4, 1879 the Democratic Advocate reported, “A baker’s dozen of merry maskers, composed of ladies and gentlemen, went from house to house on New Year’s Eve, singing New Year’s carols. They bore a small white banner inscribed, ‘Happy New Year,’ and another, ‘Remember the Poor,’ also a box inscribed ‘For Charity.’ They realized ten dollars and the money was expended on New Year’s Day in gifts to the poor, deserving and sick children. Miss Mary B. Shellman, always foremost in affairs of this nature, led the party. Presents were dispensed to thirty children.”

According to an article published in the Baltimore Sun on Jan. 2, 1942, “The Board of County Commissioners paid off $25,000 to make Carroll County debt-free. Carroll County was probably the only county in Maryland in 1942 that could claim such a distinction. With a tax rate of 90 cents on $100, Carroll had the lowest tax in the state with the exception of Queen Anne’s County. Two-thirds of tax money collected from county residents went to fund schools.”

Although many cities and towns have midnight celebrations, the largest celebration in the world is in Times Square, New York City. Each year people gather by the hundreds of thousands and crowd into the streets of Times Square for the annual New Year’s Eve celebration. (I did it one year — it is crazy.) The highlight of the Times Square celebration is the famous ball drop that ends its descent at the stroke of midnight. This famous celebration dates to 1906 when the owners of One Times Square held a rooftop celebration to bring in the New Year.

The Dutch celebrate New Year’s by burning their Christmas trees in the streets in big bonfires. This is also not recommended in Westminster. Steve Strawsburg, the Westminster street superintendent is a firefighter — and he would be annoyed over putting out the fire and cleaning up the mess.

May the New Year bring our families and community peace and joy. Let’s look to the new beginnings, new hopes, and new adventures of 2020.

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