It was a day to shake hands and extend best wishes for the new year.
A day to greet friends, neighbours, co-workers, business associates and in many cases people you’d never met before with a smile and a hearty ‘Happy New Year.’
A day to raise your glass and toast the promise of a new year.
And at New Year’s Day levees across the province thousands of Islanders did just that.
Armed in many cases with elaborate lists that set out the times, locations and in some instances the amount of time one could afford to spend in any one location before moving forward, Islanders hit the road early.
For many in the Charlottetown area the first major levee of the day took place at Fanningbank where Lt. Gov. Frank Lewis greeted several hundred visitors.
After fortifying themselves with a glass of punch and a sweet, levee regulars began a journey that for some would not end until well after dark and include more than a dozen stops.
“It’s just a wonderful way to welcome the new year,” said levee veteran Alan MacDonald, who’s been on the levee circuit for more than 25 years. “I see people at the levees on New Year’s Day that I don’t see at any other time of the year. And the way we treat people on New Year’s Day is the way we should treat people all year round. We extend our hand in friendship and we wish people well.”
MacDonald’s comments were echoed by several people who spoke to The Guardian.
“I enjoy the sociability of a levee,” said Kip Holloway. “People are at their best.”
Roger LeBlanc, of Moncton, who spent New Year’s on the Island with old friends from university, said he doesn’t think he’s ever gone to a levee at home.
“But my friends were going and they encouraged me to join them, they said it would be fun,” LeBlanc said. “I’m glad I came along. Some of the receiving lines were a little long but there was always a smile, a handshake and little something to eat on the other end, and the odd glass of wine as well.”
Other communities in this country may mark the arrival of a new year in a somewhat similar fashion but it would be hard to imagine anyone embracing the tradition of the New Year’s levee with the kind of gusto Islanders display.
In addition to events hosted by Lt. Gov. Frank Lewis, Premier Robert Ghiz, and the mayors of several municipalities, levees were hosted by the military, by fraternal organizations, by service clubs and the church.
And veterans of the levee circuit are always happy to offer advice on which levees are an absolute must to go to.
“Some levees you simply have to go to because they’re the biggies,” said an older gentleman who asked not to be named. “You have to go to Government House, to City Hall, to the Haviland Club and the Queen Charlotte Armouries and to the premier’s levee at Confederation Centre. Those are the big ones. Stratford has become a big one too and this year they went all out with their food, they had dishes from several different countries. For sentimental reasons I also have to go to the Legion.”
There seems to be a levee for almost everyone.
And this year there were new ones.
The Women’s Institute of P.E.I. hosted its first levee Tuesday, drawing a respectable crowd at the Farm Centre.
Crowds in general were on a par with previous years.
For the larger levees, like the City of Charlottetown, Government House, the town of Stratford and Premier Robert Ghiz’s levee at Confederation Centre people could expect to wait anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes in line before reaching the official receiving line.
But no one grumbles or complains.
They put on their best face, chat with people in line and check their schedules to see where to go next.
And at the end of the day they start making plans to do this all over again next year.