In 46 BC Julius Caesar instituted his Julian calendar and moved New Year’s Day from March to the Kalends of Ianuarius (January 1st). Celebrations of the new year included decorating the home with laurel branches and giving gifts of figs, dates and honey. In France the Jour des Etrennes (New Year’s Day) has been marked from Medieval times as a joyous festival to bid adieu to the closing year and look forward to bright expectations for the new year.
In fact, the custom of celebrating the start of a new year with the giving of gifts to wish good fortune for the coming months has been practiced by many civilizations. Gifts of food and drink or symbolic gifts to offer wishes of strength or prosperity were commonly exchanged. Through the centuries this concept has evolved and today most seasonal gift giving is associated with Christmas but during France’s Belle Époque period Etrennes gift suggestions included many exceptional toys.
What could be more auspicious than celebrating the start of a brand-new year by giving or receiving a fabulous new doll or doll accessory?! In the second half of the 19th century and into the early 20th the French custom of giving Etrennes gifts saw some of most enticing doll and doll accessory sets ever offered the public. Today these precious little packages thrill hearts of modern collectors.
The fashionable French department stores and toy shops made good use of the custom of giving Etrennes gifts, offering an ever-increasing number of special boxed or carded sets sure to please any child of the last half of the 19th century.
A child offering a card to their Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, etc., wishing the recipient good luck in the coming year would often be responded to with a delightful gift in the form of a toy or candy container.
France was already well known for its elaborate dolls, doll accessories, and toys and in the competition during the holiday season toy retailers sought to outshine all others with their increasingly over-the-top offerings. Many of these were comprised of boxed sets of dolls, some with wardrobes or furnishings, or sets of accessories for dolls’ use.
Catalogs from shops such as Printemps, Samaritaine, Au Nain Bleu, Au Bon Marché, and numerous others featured complete sets of doll dishes, furniture, kitchen wares, laundry implements, and dolls with wardrobes.
When found intact in their original packaging these fabulous little sets would be welcomed by any doll. This author has always tried to start the new year off right, i.e. by getting a new piece for my collection, and I highly recommend the practice!
Author – Linda Edward
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