Sooke mayor resurrects New Year’s levée

Just like monarchs and magistrates of old welcomed their town folk in the new year, Maja Tait will hold a special levée on Jan. 1

Welcoming the new year in happy spirits is always a good idea, so Sooke is bringing back a New Year’s tradition that’s lost everywhere else in the world except Canada: the levée.

Just like monarchs and magistrates of old welcomed their town folk in the new year, more than 300 years ago in Europe, Sooke Mayor Maja Tait will hold a special levée on New Year’s Day (Jan. 1) in the Sooke council chamber at Municipal Hall from 10 a.m. to noon.

Unlike previous levées, there will be extra celebration woven into the event to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary. Overall though, it’s just a feel-good, welcoming event for everyone in the community to come and enjoy.

“It’s just a nice way of greeting everyone into the new year and starting off fresh and on a positive note,” Tait said

Refreshments will be served along with music performances by Harmony Project students and The Beatniks, featuring Janet McTavish.

What is a levée anyway?

In holding a New Year’s levée, Sooke is carrying on a tradition that’s more than 350 years old in Canada. It’s derived from European tradition, though the practice of the Crown’s representative or mayors hosting their citizens at the start of each year has evolved into a distinct, almost uniquely, a Canadian tradition.

“Beyond its historical resonance, the levée is a wonderful opportunity for citizens to come together and meet their representatives and each other, as well as help build a sense of community,” said John Lutz, chair of the department of history at the University of Victoria.

Like the word dictates, it’s French, originating from levée du soleil (rising of the sun) of King Louis XIV. It was his custom to receive his servants in his bed chamber after rising, a practice that spread throughout Europe.

While the tradition is no longer held in Europe, it continues to live on in Canada. More than 50 towns in Canada have New Year’s levées, including Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay and Esquimalt.

The first recorded levée in Canada was on Jan. 1, 1646 at the Chateau St. Louis in Quebec by Charles Huault de Montmagny, governor of New France from 1636 to 1648.

Either way, a levée’s purpose is to meet and greet each other at the start of something new, as well as enjoy good company, good entertainment, and delicious treats, Tait said.

Not a bad way to start the new year.