mother in law dresses

by Jodi McDavid
When I was five years old my
mother remarried and we moved
from the city of Campbellton in
northern New Brunswick
(population 10,000) to a small farm
in Flatlands (population 1 OO), about
fifteen minutes away. At that age,
everything done on the farm was
intriguing and fascinating, and
above all new and definitely alien
to my experience. There were
various customs that took place on
the fm, but most of them had to
do with seasonal harvesting and
were adult-orientated. The one
exception to this was New Years
'Nancy New Years' was
explained to me as a small fairy
that brought gifts on New Years
Eve. It was also explained that even
if Nancy New Years had never
come to you before, that was
simply because you did not know
ab~ut her. Once you were told
about the fairy, you too would be
visited by her on New Years Eve.
Nancy New Years was typically
discussed as visiting only children,
however, in practice, this was
simply not the case, as parents
often bought gifts for each other as
well. The types of gifts brought by
Nancy New Years were typically
small, as Nancy was a small fairy
that could carry neither large things
nor a large number of things. On
New Years Eve only one's
Christmas stocking would be filled
with gifts 6om Nancy New Years.
The custom of Nancy New Years
was not widespread, and seemed to
be hinged on certain families. As a
child I encountered people in my
community that did not practice it
as well as people who did. The
community was continually
"converting" people to the tradition
because of the fact that according
to local narrative, knowledge of her
existence is all that is required for
her visitation.
For the past few years, I have
casually been trying to figure out
why Nancy New Years exists in
such as small area with a
population of less than one hundred
people. Why did this tradition
begin and what does it stem from?
The families in the area are largely
thought to be Irish, however, this is
not necessarily so, as many people
immigrated from various places
and married Irish settlers in the
area. Many of the families in the
area have the influence of Scottish
and English backgrounds as well,
and a huge influx of families was
felt here after the American
revolutionary war when United
Empire Loyalists were given land
in the area. Included in this group
were those of Dutch descent. Gift
giving on New Years Day is found
in many European countries,
although, to my knowledge, there
are not any gift-giving fairies. It is mother in law dresses
my guess that this New Years eve
custom is an old world tradition
that was given a new twist in the
new world.
Because the gifts are received at
a time when children have little
interaction with school friends
(people here are bussed outside the
community) the tradition stays
localized. Today, many people still
practice the tradition, although,
much like Christmas, each family
has their own variation. Typically,
among my fiiends and the children
that I babysat for on New Years
eve, Nancy New Years would bring
hit, nuts, candy, chocolate, small
games or puzzles, a magazine or
book, special necessities and other
miscellaneous items. There would
typically be one larger or more
expensive gift, such as a watch,
earrings, a toy, or a collectable.
From a functionalist standpoint,
Nancy New Years gave parents
some much needed sleep on New
Years Day after a late night of
revelry. I remember that for most
children, parents had to be woken
at Christmas before gifts could be
opened, but for most families,
Nancy New Years had no such
stipulation. Something that only
struck me much later, when I was
in charge of getting Nancy New
Years .gifts for my brother and
husband, was that many of the
Christmas related items such as
candy (and even non-Christmas
items) are on discount at this time
and so Nancy New Years can fill a
stocking for the 6action of the cost
that Santa Claus can. Nancy New
Years typically brings things that
are fun, inexpensive and necessary
anyway, such as hit, and personal
items like soap and shampoo.
With the lack of employment
opportunities 4 the area and the
increased mobility of North
Americans, it is probable that the
custom of Nancy New Years is
more widespread than one might
think due to out migration. It also
seems that people of my parent's
generation, unlike those of my
grandparent's generation, are
practising the custom longer,
buying more, and extending the gift
giving to each other.