Ask the Past: New Year greetings

I'm going back to work next week and seeing all my coworkers for the first time this year. Is it too late to wish them a happy new year in the middle of January?

This was actually surprisingly hard to answer, possibly because most books assume that you'd already know that it was completely unacceptable. The Lady's every-day book (1880) mentions that "The ancients made presents out of respect on the New Year's Day, as a happy augury for the ensuing year", and if you're wondering what a suitable present may be, it goes on to say that "a pound of gold was given to the emperors every New Year's Day." So if you're looking for a nice gift for your boss, or anyone else in your life who seems a little imperial, you can't go wrong with a lot of gold, even though you would be several weeks late with it.

The National Encyclopædia of Business and Social Forms (1879) has a section on New Year's calls, which sheds a little more light on the matter:

It is the custom in all the larger cities of the United States, and in the majority of the smaller towns, for gentlemen to pay their respects to their lady acquaintances on New Year's Day by formal calls.

Gentlemen, in making calls on this day, should lay aside the hat and overcoat before entering the parlor. The call should be made in morning dress. It should be brief and as cordial as possible. It should not last over ten or fifteen minutes.

The second day of January is called ''the Ladies' Day." They then make their New Year's calls upon their lady friends.

So I think safe to say that whoever you are, after the second of January, it's too late to go around wishing someone a happy New Year.

That doesn't mean you have to ignore the new year altogether, of course, you just need to be a bit more subtle about it. You could make a nod to the new year with this outfit from Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to wear at fancy balls (1887):

Radiant young girl in heyday of youth wearing plain long full satin skirt, with hours in silver round it; silver cord about waist; bodice full; pendent sleeves from elbow, caught up with roses; wreath of roses and veil in hair.

If you're not feeling radiant or young at the moment, they also have an outfit for old and new year that doesn't require it:

Full short skirt of white satin; low bodice with sash about waist ; hours printed round the skirt; calendar with the old year on one side, the new year on the other.

If just wearing a new year's dress isn't enough for you, Bentley's Second Phrase Code (1929) gives "mwuty" as the telegraph code for "Happy New Year", or "mwuyp" as the code for "Happy New Year to all". Consider dropping either of those in your office's Teams chat, or writing it on a little card and attaching it to a bunch of mugwort (happiness) and primrose (early youth) (both from The Language of Flowers (1858))and leaving it in the tearoom where everyone will be able to see your new year's wishes.

A sprig of mugwort leaves against a dark background. The leaves are a dark bluish-green, and each leaf is a group of long ovals with a soft pointed end.
mwuyp. Photo by Wyxina Tresse

I'm sure that will help.

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