Nelly Haelterman about
her collection ofNew Year's Cards
It is a rich Flemish tradition: on January 1, young children convey New Year’s Wishes to their parents and grandparents by reading aloud from distinctive handwritten cards decorated with seasonal illustrations.
Nelly's collection includes more than 10.000 examples of New Year’s Cards. The oldest cards date from 1838, 1851, 1852, 1853, ...
....she also obtained a photocopy of a card that bears the date 1746 ( the original remains in the archives of the family).
Nelly pioneered the idea of collecting these New Year’s cards about eight years ago. In her attic, a place where often forgotten treasures await to be rediscovered, she found the New Year’s Cards of her own - now adult - children. She found them too endearing to throw away and thus made the first step in starting her unique collection.
Via a local radio broadcast in 1999, Emiel De Neef contacted Nelly and presented her with 10 beautiful cards from the 1930’s. They were all in excellent condition! The collection began to grow. Nelly placed ads in newspapers and magazines, made excursions to flea markets and fairs... resulting in a total of more than 9000 New Year’s Cards to date.
It is worth noting the evolution in style when reviewing all these cards spanning a period of a century and a half. New Year’s Cards from the 19th century to the early 20th century bear witness to a more bourgeois mentality and are mainly composed in the French language.
Art Deco and Jugendstil characteristics were prevalent among the New Year’s Cards from around the 1920’s.
1864 1906 1926
It is clear that many were not written by the children themselves. The handwriting is too regular and elegant, almost with calligraphic qualities. Often, in the first grade, the teacher would first write the text in pencil whereafter the children would carefully write over it with pen and ink.
1916 1934 1942
The older cards are also more luxurious, with pop-up angels for example. Outward signs of religious culture were more common, with illustrations containing Jesus, the Sacred Heart, Saint Theresa, Saint Anthony, etc.
Equally abundant are “good-luck” icons, such as four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, mushrooms, ...
1933 S. Theresa 1934 Sint-Ignatius 1934 S. Elisabeth
The content of the text prioritized values such as respect for the parents and religious beliefs.
During the two World Wars, besides the traditional wishes, there are also wishes for peace. Often, New Year’s Cards of these periods were mailed to a father who was far away from home to defend his country.
New Year’s Cards from the 50’s and 60’s rekindle memories of Nelly’s own childhood years, and she has a slight preference for cards of this period.
Many cards of the 70’s seem to have been illustrated by the children or the teacher themselves. Let’s call it the Creative Period.
From the 80’s on, comic book figures and animated film characters make their presence on the cards. Followed only a little later by the New Year’s Cards as we know them today.
The Creative Period
Comic book figures
Contemporary New Year’s Card
Today, one sees more often the use of ballpoint, photocopied, typed or even computer fabricated cards. The latter are often by the very young children still insufficient in handwriting.
New Year’s Cards are very nearly exclusive to Flemish tradition, although they can be traced to a few isolated locations in the Wallon provinces as well. No other country besides Belgium knows the custom of writing and the ceremony of reading New Year’s Cards.
That the tradition is dear to the hearts of the Flemish people, and should be preserved and encouraged, manifests itself through the questions and inquiries Nelly receives around New Year’s from expatriated Flemish Belgians.
Teachers: Please add historic value to the New Year’s Cards by including the date and the full name of the child!
Request: If you have old New Year’s Cards somewhere in your attic or in a chest or drawer and you think of getting rid of them, please do not destroy them, Send them instead to a dedicated collector who will preserve them in a valuable collection with the best of care.