This Week in History: New Year’s Day 1920

Champagne bottles and glasses

This Week in History: New Year’s Day 1920

A political cartoon from The Boston Globe, Jan. 1, 1920
A political cartoon from The Boston Globe, Jan. 1, 1920

One hundred years ago today, people were celebrating the start of what would be dubbed the Roaring 20s in the United States.  What should have been a cause for celebration was slightly tempered.  This was the last New Year celebration before Prohibition would go into effect on Jan. 16, 1920.

In Boston, revelers gathered at cafes and hotels.  “Some glum as they drink cider,” a headline in The Boston Globe said.  The cider, along with ginger ale, was sold for 40 cents to 50 cents a bottle.  Cocktails and hard liquor were brought to establishments from home.

Bars were crowed, the Globe reported, and “did thriving business all the evening in dispensing half of one-percent beer and cider.”

The lack of hard alcohol was pretty much the only noticeable difference between this and any other new year celebration.  Establishments provided partyers with noise-makers, confetti and paper caps.  Music, dancing and singing was commonplace.

Some parties continued until 2 a.m.

Downtown Boston Celebrates

A couple celebrating, circa 1919
A couple celebrating, circa 1919

Celebrations downtown also were dry.  The Colonial restaurant hosted hundreds of people at $5.15 a plate for a celebration that lasted from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

A man dressed as Father Time entered the party just before midnight.  He told the crowd that although he wasn’t able to see into the future, they should focus on their desires and he would do his best to make them come true.

He was followed by a young woman holding flowers, representing the new year, and the crowd sang a round of Auld Lang Syne.

Other downtown establishments hosted large parties.  The Quincy House entertained nearly 4,800 people and was forced to turn people away at door.

A 12-piece jazz band and Scottish pipers and drummers were the feature at the Bird Cage.  Guests were given novelty souvenirs and noise-makers. Women received a doll that cried for 30 minutes when pressed.

Celebrate While the Going is Good

Liquor flowed like water when 1919 became 1920.
Liquor flowed like water when 1919 became 1920.

“The New Year celebration in the theatres and up-town hotels proved an event that will long be remembered in the days of drought that are to follow,” the Globe said.

Men and women dressed up for the occasion, and the clothing was “by far the most attractive of any worn to a public celebration during the past year.”

Liquor flowed like water just after midnight at uptown hotels.  Probably the final time the establishments would hear the popping of champagne corks, the newspaper lamented.

The cost of living soared in 1919 and people danced with the hope and promise that 1920 would be a better year, and “if partners were exchanged by mistake in the general shuffle, no one minded it very much.”

Parties in uptown included not only music, noise-makers, silly hats and souvenirs, but fortune tellers and balloons.

At midnight, the lights in the party rooms were turned off, and electric signs reading “1920” were illuminated.  A new decade of momentous change had begun.

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Updated:  28 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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