If you’re lucky, or maybe not, you’ve encountered somebody at a New Year’s Eve party dressed like “Baby New Year.”
Typically, you find it’s an adult male who’s donned an over-sized diaper and wearing a sash emblazoned with the year to come. This can make for lots of good fun for those who have already had a few libations (Moscow mule anybody?!). But did you ever think about why a baby is associated with the coming of a new year?
As it turns out, the association of a baby and a new calendar year goes way, way back. It can be traced to around 600 B.C. when the Greeks chose to use a baby to symbolize rebirth.
Through the years, images of Baby New Year have been used across posters, cards, invitations, books, calendars, advertising, and the like.
But one publication chose to feature Baby New Year in a very unique way.
The Saturday Evening Post, most commonly associated with covers featuring beautiful PG-rated illustrations by Norman Rockwell, placed very beautiful and yet somewhat thought-provoking images on its first cover of the year from 1907 until 1943. These covers featured the art of J.C. Leyendecker, predecessor and mentor to Rockwell, who was considered to be one of the preeminent American illustrators of the early 20th century.
The first four covers by Leyendecker were general in theme but in 1910, this changed. From then on, each cover featured Baby New Year in a way that was reflective of the mood of the United States at the time. For example, the 1912 Saturday Evening Post cover features Baby New Year holding a sign that states “Votes for Women” as a way of depicting the nation’s interest in the women’s suffrage movement.
In 1934, Baby New Year is seen looking like a business man, wearing a bowler while closely watching a stock ticker tape - hopefully to see a positive upswing as a result from the recently approved National Recovery Act which was designed to regulate industry for fair wages and control prices in an effort to stimulate economic recovery.
Most provocative though are the four covers released in the 1940s. Though the United States was at peace when the decade began, there was concern over tensions abroad and a growing concern about the possibility of U.S involvement.
Donned in military gear and surrounded by symbols of “the enemies,” Baby New Year was portrayed in a way that was not as gentle as it once was depicted. Forthright references to the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy were included and Baby New Year was used to convey deep, dark, and fearful messages.
While the artistry of Leyendecker's covers is beautiful, it's amazing that Baby New Year, a character that was once simply a sweet iconic figure with a cherubic face, symbolic of hope and rebirth, would change over the years to become a messenger of something as tough and distasteful as a world war.