New Year's Celebrations

Put all of your books in order, answer your correspondence as quickly as possible.
— Clay S. Jenkinson portraying Thomas Jefferson

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The following is a rush transcript.

David Swenson: 00:00 Good day citizens and welcome to what would jefferson do?, our weekly opportunity to discuss current American events with President Thomas Jefferson who is seated across from me now. Good day to you, Mr. President.

Clay S. Jenkinson as Thomas Jefferson: 00:15 Good day to you, citizen.

DS: 00:18 Mr Jefferson, it's new year's. A holiday I know you approved of. And I was hoping I could get you to speak about it a bit, sir.

CSJ as TJ: 00:26 Well, I approved of it because it is nonsectarian.

CSJ as TJ: 00:30 In other words, there is no religious significance of any sort to new year's day. It's an artificial line of demarcation between the outgoing year and the incoming year. It actually dates back to the Roman god Janus, who was a two-faced God, one facing forward and one facing backward and using the Julian calendar which was devised during the era of Julius Caesar at the end of the old world, the Romans undertook a new calendar and the first month of that calendar is Janus, the the forward-looking and the backward-looking month, and so that seemed to me to be a really useful moment to have one of my two White House receptions per year. I had two while serving my two terms as president. One every year was on new year's Day and one every year was on the fourth of July, which is the birthday of our republic.

DS: 01:29 How did people celebrate that holiday during your time, Mr. President?

CSJ as TJ: 01:33 People had desserts. This is part of the old twelfth night festival, so January sixth is twelfth night, and in British history twelfth night was actually a more festive occasion than Christmas itself. Christmas to the extent that it was observed was seen as a religious moment, but twelfth night was more convivial. It involved pranks and kind of a trick or treat motif and some exchanging of gifts and a fair amount of intoxication and so on. And so January first is in a sense the American twelfth night, and it was observed not in the way that you do it in your time, but with some understanding that one year was departing in another, was being born and there would've been some exchange of gifts perhaps. There would have been some, uh, ale or mulled wine or punch or other alcoholic beverages at the White House. What I simply did was have fine wines, the best wines that I could afford, and I had desserts, so an array of different desserts so that those who came, I suppose between one and 200 people would come to that reception. There would be plenty for them to eat. But it would be more on the desert side than on the entree side of the equation.

DS: 03:07 Do you have any personal recollections of memorable New Year's celebrations, sir?

CSJ as TJ: 03:12 No, I can't think of any particularly. I didn't, I must say I'm not a very, I'm not a party lover. I was, I felt obligated to throw open the doors of the White House a couple of times per year. It is the people's house and the president is the people's representative. And I knew that there were calls upon me to have some sort of public receptions and I was always a gracious host. I love to bring in the finest wines and champagnes. Sometimes I would serve up to seven wines at a dinner party, at the White House. And I took pride in my status as a Virginia gentleman, so there would have been the finest of foods available and the politeness. I would have greeted everyone, possibly wearing slippers, but I don't have any particular memory of any one of them, frankly, I don't mean to sound at all negative or critical, but the sooner they were over the better because I had work to do

DS: 04:16 Many Americans during my time sir, make what they call New Year's resolutions, things that they intend to do in the new year, would you have any suggestions as to good resolutions that people might think about?

CSJ as TJ: 04:31 Of course. Put all of your books in order, answer your correspondence as quickly as possible. Because if you don't, it will become nearly impossible to do so. Be Rational. When you're angry, count to 10 when you're very angry Count to 100, but strive for rationality and good sense.

DS: 04:52 Thank you very much. And a happy new year to you, sir.

CSJ as TJ: 04:55 Happy New Year to you.

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