It took me 10 years of living on Prince Edward Island before I felt capable of attending New Years Day levees here in Charlottetown. Initially I was confused about the whole idea (we never had levees in Ontario, at least not in my social class), and then later I was confused by the confounding requirement for a “calling card”:
I was afraid to ask anyone what a “calling card” was for fear of being called out as a neophyte — “Why good sir, have you not a goodly supply of calling cards in your saddle bag? Forsooth every noble Islander has always one at the ready!”
It took my brave friend G., back in 2004, to get me over the hump: he convinced me that I didn’t actually need a calling card at all. And so off we went.
If you are a levee virgin, here’s a set of pointers that you might find useful to get you over your own fears and into the levee habit:
- While children generally aren’t taken to levees (although in recent years even this barrier has been breaking down), everyone else is welcome, regardless of religion, gender, social class, noble rank, etc. Certain levees may feel unusual for certain people for different reasons, but I’ve yet to see anyone not warmly welcomed at each and every levee I’ve attended.
- The proceeding is the same at every levee: you show up at the appointed time and get in line (the later you show up, the longer the line will be); sometimes you’ll be offered the opportunity to check your coat, sometimes not (it will be obvious); the line generally leads to a receiving line of your hosts — the Mayor and Councillors, or the President, or the Premier or the Bishop — who shake your hand and wish you a Happy New Year. At the end of the line there are refreshments.
- The refreshments are vary greatly from levee to levee: sometimes there’s alcohol, sometimes not. Some levees have sandwiches and snacks, some just sweets. You don’t have to pay (there are a few exceptions to this where you’ll find a cash bar; this will be obvious).
- After milling about for what seems like an appropriate amount of time, you gather your coat if you’ve checked it, and head off to the next levee.
- The role of the “calling card” is to allow the person running the receiving to whisper your name into the name of the Important People (or, sometimes, to just hand them the card so they can greet you by name). Some levees have blank cards and pens available for those without; if you end up without a card, fear not, as you can simply introduce yourself in person.