New Hampshire Tidbits: Old Toasts and Traditions of the New Year

Ring Out the Old, image from “The world Book, organized knowledge in story and picture,” by Michael Vincent O’Shea, 1917. Internet Archive.

Tradition is interwoven with the changing of the year. On New Year’s Day it is common to bid farewell to the old and to welcome in the new with an optimistic perspective. For a brief moment at the striking of midnight on New Year’s eve, the past and the future are melded together. That momentary curtain of time is often parted amidst tears of both sadness and joy.

Celebration silhouette from Building and EngineeringNews by Contractors’ and Dealers’ Association of California, 1914. Internet Archive

✲✴✧❅ Traditions ✲✴✧❅
On New Year’s Eve celebrants traditionally drink a form of punch as they cheer in the New Year, and offer a toast to their friends or to themselves. They think about who is new in their lives, and those who have passed. This tradition is probably ancient, as we know the Romans called the first month of the year ‘Januarius’ after Janus, their god of doors and gates from which you can look both forward and backward. Note that for modern reference it was not until 1752 that the British Parliament changed its calendar to make January the first month of the year (from formerly the 10th month).

On New Years Day it is considered a propitious time to make new resolutions–casting off unworthy habits and fostering those worth while. Many want to start the coming twelve  months with a clean slate.

It was tradition to throw open the doors of one’s house to welcome friends, neighbors, family, any one who wished to stop by. Some of these open houses were formally announced with invitations, with the guests received at the door by pre-arranged hostesses. One such custom of New Year receptions was the White House in Washington, D.C.

John W. Hunefeld, first in line at the White House for 17 years on New Year’s Day.

✲✴✧❅ A New Hampshire Man First In Line At the White House on New Year’s Day ✲✴✧❅
It was the curious New Year’s Day custom of one John William Hunefeld, a native of New Hampshire, for seventeen years to be the first in line to shake the hand of the President of the United States.  (Editor’s note: White House Open Houses were held from 1801-1932). The White House Historical Association mentions him: …”President Herbert Hoover held the last New Year’s Day reception in 1932. Yet, J.W. Hunefeld, a man who prided himself with being first in line for many years, waited forlornly at the White House gates in 1934, because “he wanted to make sure the president hadn’t changed his mind.”

In 1928 an newspaper reported that one J.W. Hunsfield (sic), a native of New Hampshire, was first in line at the White House, standing for hours in the cold stating he would “stand right here for a week for the chance to say happy New Year to Cal.” [Calvin Coolidge].

The Tampa Daily Times of 22 Feb 1930 tells his story: “Washington, Feb 22 — Folks have heard considerable about the exploits of “One-Eye Connolly,” the self-styled champion gate-crasher at big events, and so has J.W. Hunefeld, of this city. Hunefeld makes two resolutions every New Year’s morning. Both of them are vows to be the first in line at the public reception at the White House. He admired Connolly only in one respect–that he knows he can’t butt in at White House functions. If such affairs of state and society could be entered without an “invite” Hunefeld would emulate Connolly, he said.
–Is There Early–
So every Jan. 1 for the last several years Hunefeld has gone to bed early New Year’s eve to arise at 5:30 and get ready to take his vigil before the White House gate. This year he got down around 8 a.m. and found only a few secret service men astir. The rest of the capital was sleeping from the effects of the night before. Hunefeld felt in time and with the aid of an umbrella stood patiently as Mister John Q. Public himself. For two hours this short man with a big mustache and no overcoat stood before other members of the Public family appeared. The first two to join him were two elderly women. And then the line started to form in earnest, 6,348 men, women and children passing before the Hoovers to shake their hands and wish them well between 1 and 3:30 p.m. Although eligible to be the first to shake the presidential hand when the public was admitted, Hunefeld relinquished this distinction to the woman in second place.
– No Longer Novelty-
Leading the line to the White House New Year’s reception is no novelty for Hunefeld. He won that distinction in 1926 and would have been the first the following year if a traffic tie-up had not delayed him. Last year he was all set to emulate his role as Washington’s “early big” but President Coolidge was on a visit to the Virginia mountains. Hunefeld recognized the importance first places give a fellow. He had slips of paper bearing information concerning himself ready to distribute to reporters. He was not abashed, either, to pose for the cameramen. It’s a long time before another New Year’s but Hunefeld already had decided that his resolution for 1931 will be–to get up early and be first in line at the White House!

On 2 Jan 1932 The Evening Sun, Baltimore MD published his photograph and the following notice: First in White House Line for 5th New Year. J.W. HUNEFELD. Washing, Jan 2 (UP) J.W> Hunefeld, a house painter, claims that his record of being first in line at the White House New Year’s public reception is unbroken. Hunefeld scorned the invitation to meet the President privately and turned down the breakfast proffered four other early risers, saying he didn’t drink coffee. This, he later admitted was to keep his place at the head of the line, a place he held in 1926, 1928, 1930 and 1931.”

The Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon) on 1 January 1932 additionally reported that President and Mrs. Hoover awaited callers in the Historic Blue Room, noting it was there, 130 years earlier, that John and Abigail Adams inaugurated that annual custom. Each visitor of the general public (including Mr. Hunefeld) was offered a handshake and the greeting “Happy New Year.”

The Jackson Sun (Jackson, TN) of 1 Jan 1940 reported that “John W. Hunefeld, 74-year-old house painter who has an abiding pride in being first in line at the White House on New Year’s Day, was first again today–but there was no reception and no competition. President Roosevelt abandoned the reception when he took office, but that didn’t stop Hunefeld, who started his White House visits in 1924. He showed up at 6 a.m. (EST) in freezing weather today and stuck around until 8:20. Mr. Roosevelt was not available, so Hunefeld shook hands with a White House policeman and then left for a cup of hot coffee.

The Wilkes-Barre Record of 2 January 1942 published the following Story. Presidential Greeting Sent to House Painter. Washington, Jan 1. (AP) Illness kept John W. Hunefied, a 75-year-old house painter, from making his customary New Year’s Day visit to the White House today, but he got a presidential greeting anyway. For 17 years Hunefield has gone to the White House gate on New Year’s Day to extend a greeting to the President if the opportunity arose. This year illness kept the worker in his rooms. To friendly newsmen he expressed a wish for an autographed picture of President Roosevelt. Reading of Hunefield’s plight, the Chief Executive sent the picture, inscribed “to John W. Hunefield, first in line. From his friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt,” with it went a basket of foodstuff. A native of Portsmouth, N.H., Hunefield came here [Washington DC] in 1923.

John William Hunefeld was born on 10 April 1866 in Portsmouth NH, son of Henry A. & Jennie (Hubardfield) Hunefeld. His father was from Holland and worked as a fisherman while his mother was born in Bath, England.  John William Hunefeld had started as a Portsmouth NH fisherman at least by the age of 14 but later worked as a blacksmith in Massachusetts and even later as a house painter in Washington DC. When he died in 1945, he was buried in his family’s plot in Harmony Grove, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  [Editor’s note: His surname is spelled a variety of ways in primary records including Hunefeld, Hunefield, Hunsfeld, Hunafield, Hunefield, and Hunnafield].

New Years graphic from The Roxburge Ballads, by William Chappell, 1879. Internet Archive.

✲✴✧❅ Toasts Old and New ✲✴✧❅
With the first stroke of the midnight hour glasses are clinked together, and good wishes for the coming year exchanged.  Other than what was just described, there is no set standard for toasting the New Year in, though some would claim there is in more than one publication.  A toast can range from wishing those about a Happy New Year, to a formal ritual of each present offering a personal commemoration.

Benjamin Franklin’s Toast
“Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.” [Found in Poor Richard’s Almanack, December 1755, not attributed]

A Toast to the Future
“Here’s a toast to the future, a toast to the past, and a toast to our friends, far and near. May the future be pleasant, the past a bright dream. May our friends remain faithful and dear.” [First appears in newspaper in 1961, attributed to “Pink Ladies.”]

A Healthful Toast
Here’s to the bright New Year,
May joy her gold crown be–
Her diadem, success–
Her throne gayety.
Here’s to long life to the new year
With honest labor, hope and health
Victory without a fear
Stores of wisdom, and hoards of wealth
[Contributed, Republican Tribune, Union Missouri 7 Jan 1930]

Anonymous Toast
“Here’s to the bright New Year
And a fond farewell to the old;
Here’s to the things that are yet to come
And to the memories that we hold.”
[This toast can be found in newspapers in the 1970s and 1990s, either not attributed or just listed as an Irish toast].

An Irish Toast
May your nets always be full, your pockets never empty; may your horse not cast a shoe, or the devil look at you … in the year that lies ahead.”  [This toast has been quoted, and re-quoted multiple times over the years, attributed as being Irish. The earliest in which I can find it in its entirety is a 1997 newspaper].

A Traditional Scottish Toast
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
[Attributed to Robert Burns, but probably nicked from earlier poets. See the longer version here, usually sung to music].

A ‘Traditional’ Irish Toast
“In the new year may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want ” [This quote starts showing up in U.S. newspapers about 1982 and continuously re-quoted in following years].

A Simple Toast
“Joy, health and prosperity for the 365 days ahead.”

A Personal Toast
May your cares be light
As the tail of a kite;
May your year be bright
As a star in a dark night;
May your debts be slight,
And your fist never tight!
–Henry’s Diner ad, The Burlington Free Press, 30 Dec 1981

A Poetic Toast
“Make new friends, but keep the old;
Those are silver, these are gold.
New-made friendships, like new wine,
Age will mellow and refine.
Friendships that have stood the test –
Time and change – are surely best;
Brow may wrinkle, hair grow gray,
Friendship never knows decay.
For ‘mid old friends, tried and true,
Once more we our youth renew.
But old friends, alas! may die,
New friends must their place supply.
Cherish friendship in your breast-
New is good, but old is best;
Make new friends, but keep the old;
Those are silver, these are gold.
Joseph Parry

A Literary Toast
“God Bless Us, Every One.” [From Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol].

A Toast for Genealogists
“To genealogists old and new,
May 2019 bring that perfect clue.
Of missing forbear, or hidden founder,
Be they saint or wicked bounder.

A toast to your eyes that help you read,
That aged script and family screed.
And last not least to your spritely brain,
To unscramble the mysteries of DNA’s chain.

May each one of your days have 10 extra hours,
Decoding five languages–your super powers.
And obvious the location of kindred headstone,
And missing maternal surnames known.

On second thought, I take it all back,
for this toast if true makes you a torpid hack.
We need the mystery, we crave the riddle,
Else we finish our tree, and thumbs we twiddle.

Instead, may the coming year bring you many a test,
That piques your interest and allows you no rest. ”
[Written/copyright December 2018, Janice W. Brown, editor of Cow Hampshire blog for members of the FaceBook Genealogy Blogger’s group]

Bowl of Snow. From “St. Nicholas, by Mary Mapes Dodge, 1873. Internet Archive.

✲✴✧❅ The New Year’s Food Menu ✲✴✧❅

An 1890 Cincinnati Restaurant offered the following New Year menu: Green Sea Turtle Soup, Baked Salmon, Italian Sauce, Roast Turkey with Oyster Dressing, Roast Ribs of Beef. Roast Venison with Currant Jelly. Baked Mashed Potatoes. Succotash, Stewed Sugar Corn, Stewed Tomatoes. Shrimp Salad. Dessert: Mince Pie, Lemon Custard, Pumpkin Pie Boiled English Pudding with Rum sauce, French Drip Coffee.

In 1928 the newspapers touted that goose garnished with apple rings was the centerpiece of a traditional New Year’s Day meal.

✲✴✧❅ New Year Punch Recipes ✲✴✧❅
Drinking a form of punch while offering a toast seems to be one of the oldest traditions. In the older punch recipes rum formed the base, though that formula has changed over time to a type of champagne in modern days.

Champagne Punch
One bottle of brandy, three bottles of champagne, two bottles club soda, one liquor glass of yellow Chartreuse and the same of green and of Curacao, all to be mixed together with one quarter of Oolong tea, with sliced lemons and other fruit; add soda and champagne last.[Omaha World Herald 4 Jan 1897, New Year Punches from NY Bistros].

Eggnog Punch
For each glass put in the punch bowl one tablespoonful of sugar, one fresh egg, two ounces of brandy and one-quarter of an ounce of Arrack. [Omaha World Herald 4 Jan 1897, New Year Punches from NY Bistros].

Lemon Ginger Punch (Non-Alcoholic)
Make a very strong lemonade allowing five lemons and a cup of sugar to every quart of water. Roll the lemons and slice, cover with the sugar and let stand an hour before adding the water. To every quart of the lemonade, allow one quart ginger ale. Turn the mixture into the punch bowl which has its block of ice. Have ready a number of sprays of mint. Bruise the stems and lower leaves between the fingers so as to bring out the mint flavor. Add these springs of mint to the punch bowl about half an hour before serving. While this is primarily a summer drink, it finds appreciation as well at winter entertainments. [Burlington Free Press, 2 January 1909]

Orange Punch (Not alcoholic)
A delicious temperance punch can be made from equal portions of orange and lemon juice with sugar, chopped ice and soda water and fruit. [Omaha World Herald 4 Jan 1897, New Year Punches from NY Bistros].

Iced Coffee Punch (Not alcoholic)
Iced coffee with whipped cream on top makes a very desirable filling for the New Year’s punch bowl. [Omaha World Herald 4 Jan 1897, New Year Punches from NY Bistros].

Whiskey Punch
Sugar and lemons, with a dash of lime juice, shaken up well, with chopped ice; then add old rye whiskey, add club soda, cordials and fruit to taste. [Omaha World Herald 4 Jan 1897, New Year Punches from NY Bistros].

✲✴✧❅✲✴✧❅ ADDITIONAL READING ✲✴✧❅✲✴✧❅

Poetry and Prose of the New Year

Book: Irish Toast, by Shane Na Gael, 1906

Book: Toasts and tributes : a happy book of good cheer, good health; edited by Arthur Gray, 1904.

100 Years Ago: WWI and the New Year (January 1918)

Not New Hampshire: John Q. Adam’s New Years Day of 1827

A Happy New Year 1841

If Cows Could Make New Year Resolutions


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5 Responses to New Hampshire Tidbits: Old Toasts and Traditions of the New Year

  1. Amy says:

    I’ve never heard of this tradition of the president greeting people on New Year’s Day. Does it still happen? Not that I have any interest this year……

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, thanks for reading and commenting (again!) 😀 This tradition of U.S. Presidents was specific to an open house of sorts for the GENERAL PUBLIC. That custom stopped in 1932. In addition to that the President often held a breakfast and other receptions with invited guests, mainly composed of high level White House staff, cabinet members, members of Congress, ambassadors, etc. That portion of the open house may still continue, however it is greatly monitored and is by invitation only (unlike the one mentioned in the story).

  2. Cathleen Manning says:

    This was a delightful read, Janice. Happy New Year to you!

  3. Pingback: A Toast to My Readers: New Year 2020 | Cow Hampshire

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