New Year's Day by
have always known how to have a good time on New Year's Eve, but over
the years customs have changed.
Long before Galveston
had a well-deserved reputation as a party town, French buccaneers
under Jean Lafitte celebrated the arrival of 1819 on the sparsely
populated island by imbibing numerous tankards of potent punch. Their
holiday grog consisted of rum diluted with slightly muddy water, made
zestier with molasses-flavored brown sugar, spices and lime from Jamaica
and a pinch or two of red pepper.
On New Year's Day, the more literate of the cutthroats waxed poetic
in the written hoo-rawing of their comrades-in-arms. Though hard to
imagine an assemblage of hung-over, sword-toting, not-so-Jolly-Rogers
dipping their quills to spoof their shipmates, a story by Dr. J.O.
Dyer published in the Dec. 26, 1920 Galveston News outlined what was
known of the swashbuckler's method of celebration.
"The playing of tricks and pranks was common enough in the old pioneer
days," Dyer wrote, "but on New Year's Day the camp of Lafitte resounded
with the hoarse laughs and shouts that accompany 'horseplay' among
the vulgar and ignorant."
Rather than forcing anyone to walk the plank, their piratical pranking
took a decided literary bent, with those who could read and write
resorting to "their wits and their pens (a quill feather of a bird
shaped into a pen point and usually blood for ink) to satire or ridicule
Dyer said the pirates stood in a circle to take turns reading their
good-natured digs. In the modern vernacular, the patch-wearing "aarrgggh"
set enjoyed something of a gridiron show, indulging in a mutual roast.
"French was the written and spoken language of the camp, and generally
under- stood," Dyer continued, "but a patois…of French, English, Portuguese
and Spanish was the more often used, and incorrectly at that."
Somehow, one the buccaneers' New Year's "bouquets" survived into the
20th century, preserved for posterity by Dyer:
|En voila jo ami le
Ilne Jamais argent eneuf,
Et quand desiro demand l'oeuf,
suite esta dumb and deaf.
|Here comes your friendly
Le Boeuf, |
Never has money enough,
And when you strike him for an oeuf,
He becomes at once dumb and deaf.
|("Oeuf" is French
for "egg," but 19th century slang for "loan," both being rather fragile constructions.)|
a few years, Lafitte had been run out of Texas and Stephen F. Austin had received
permission from the new Mexican government to develop a colony. As Dr. Eugene
C. Barker pointed out in his biography of Austin, the first day of 1822 had an
impact on the Texas map.
In December 1821, returning to Texas from New
Orleans, Austin found that 50 or so families had already moved onto his land.
The early arrivers had begun a settlement at the La Bahia Road crossing of the
Colorado, near present Columbus.
On Jan. 1, 1822, about 10 miles west of the Brazos, some of the colonists established
another community on a stream they named New Year's Creek.
Mary Austin Holley, later described a New Year's day early in the Republic of
|Jany 1. 38--May you
all be happy this bright New Years day my beloved children. We had a gay supper
last night, & danced in the new year, though, being Sunday we did not dance out
the old. A few young per- sons…among them 2 young gentlemen excellent singers
& musicians on guitar, flute, violin, & Accordian. . . . After retiring they serenaded
us with those instruments combined--& vocal solos. Very sweet mu- sick. It lasted
till near the time the birds commenced their morning concert. |
bowl games not having been invented yet, Texans in the 1880s marked the New Year
by visiting each other. "New Year calls are in order, and a number of ladies kept
open house from 5 to 11 p.m.," the Marshall correspondent for the Dallas Morning
News reported in 1887. |
San Antonio newspaper readers had an interesting
year-end story to ponder in January 1889. It had to do with an old grandfather
clock in the home of city alderman J.C. Richey.
"At exactly 12 o'clock
on New Year's eve," the Dallas Morning News later reported, "at the very second
which marks the death of the old and the beginning of the new year, [the large,
eight-day clock] stopped and all efforts to induce it to run have been unavailing.
It ceased work without apparent cause and has evidently determined to remain idle
so long as it holds together."
the end of the 19th century, many Texans referred to New Year's Eve as "watch
The more pious gathered in churches for "watch night" services,
while others tossed down drinks and thought of ways to add to the cacophony when
the clock struck twelve.
as 1899 became 1900, the Dallas daily reported that "horns were blown, whistles
tooted, pistols and guns shot, yells given and nearly all the bells in the city
rung, the whole conspiring to make a most hideous uproar and sleep impossible."
Farther east, in Lamar County:
"The New Year was ushered in…by the ringing
of church bells, screeching of whistles and the explosion of a few giant [fire]
crackers. Very few business houses were closed during the day, however, and the
bill collectors made their usual rounds."
Some things don't change.