This year the theme of Holidays at Hagley is the celebration of New Year’s Day. The exhibit cases in the Library building lobby will feature letters, account books and gifts which document the du Pont family tradition of New Year’s Calling.
The du Pont family has celebrated New Year’s Day in America since their arrival in 1800. The exchange of gifts on that day was a custom brought over from France. The tradition of visits within the family, though, was developed on the Brandywine. After Victor du Pont and his family moved into their home, Louviers, on the other side of the Brandywine from Eleutherian Mills, the two branches of the du Pont family tried to dine together on New Year’s Day. Communication between the two households was often disrupted, however, during the winter months, either by storms or by illness. By the 1820s the single family dinner had yielded to New Year’s visits.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, both males and females went calling and exchanged gifts at New Year’s. The closer the relationship, the more important was the gift. Family papers of the 1820s confirm the extent of gift exchange. The younger family members most often fabricated the gifts they gave and the young women often gave needlework.
Exactly when the women stopped making the New Year visits is not clear in the family papers. The du Pont men had assumed responsibility for visiting the ladies of the family on the holiday around 1860. This practice was adopted beyond the du Pont family sphere; it was followed generally in etiquette-minded Victorian America.
Throughout the twentieth century and the present day, the du Pont family’s New Year’s calling tradition continues as a special holiday time for visits and presenting gifts.
The exhibit will open through January 2014 - view an online version of the exhibit and a selection of digitized items from our collection here.
Lynn Catanese is Chief Curator, Library Collections, at Hagley Museum and Library.