WHO keeps New Year resolutions? We all make them, but how many of us actually keep them for more than a few days (if that) beyond the well-meaning haze of the New Year bubbly and phone calls to our nearest and dearest.
For the most part the fate of New Year resolutions represents the triumph of real life and the insistent pressures of everyday duties and responsibilities over good intentions.
I am as guilty of the failed New Year resolution syndrome as the next person – probably the only time I ever kept one was the year when I announced I wouldn’t be making any.
I have a deep loathing of the New Year, New You advertising features with which most local newspapers fill their pages in the first couple of weeks of January. It is born of years of having to write meaningless puffery to fill empty column inches, with a clear-eyed knowledge that my words would not be read by anyone and that thousands of trees had died in vain to produce the paper on which this rubbish was printed. If you think that sounds like biting the hand that fed me, you might be right, but in return I would point to the supremacy of advertising managers over editors, of paid content over real news, as a major factor in the decline of local (and national) papers in the 21st century.
So my New Year resolutions are never the “new year, new me” type. I don’t promise to exercise more – why should I pay good money to go to a gym and engage a “personal trainer” when I have a dog who likes a long walk and live in a town on a hill. Nor will I be planning to sign up to any diet or eating regime which involves paying a franchisee or “guru,” buying specially branded low-fat/low-carb/low-sugar products, or acquiring the latest “clean eating” manual (by some impossibly thin and glamorous young woman who has created her “unique” recipes to cure her 120 allergies and food intolerances. No, I am not even making this up).
The majority of resolutions usually are about fitness and healthy eating or being nice(r) to our neighbours and/or family members (even if we don’t actually like them). Then there are the personal wish-lists – listen to more music, go to the theatre more often, watch less television, read at least two of the books on the Man Booker Prize shortlist, buy shoes that fit and are comfortable, rather than six-inch spikes which make you walk like a giraffe and hurt like hell, choose clothes because they suit you not because they are (a) cheap and (b) fashionable this week, visit Tuscany/Provence/Manhattan/Disneyland/New Zealand (choose your own dream destination.)
Sometimes we raise our eyes above the immediate horizon and aim for something a bit worthier – volunteer to work in the local hospice shop, become a collector for an animal charity, join an environmental organisation, support the work of groups helping the elderly, the disabled or people with mental health problems or sign up as a political party activist.
The origins of New Year resolutions go way back into the mists of time, specifically to the Babylonians, who began the year by promising their gods to return borrowed objects and pay their debts. A few centuries later, the Romans marked the new year by making promises to the god Janus, who faces both ways and gives his name to the month, January. In the Medieval era, there was a tradition of the “peacock vow” which knights took at the end of the Christmas season to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. The New Year’s Eve watchnight service is an opportunity for Christians to pray and make their resolutions.
This year I have made a resolution (well, actually two – I really am going to use the domestic smoker we bought a couple of years ago and learn to produce our own smoked chicken and duck). I am going to use the ancestry.com package I was given for Christmas several years ago and start to research our family history, particularly the Newfoundland story on my mother’s side and the Scottish and possibly Jewish connections on my father’s. It’s not a “Who do you think you are?” project, rather a desire to find out more about how and where the various branches of our family came from, to put the story together for my children in Berlin and California and their children. The more scattered we are, the more important it is to gather the threads and make a tapestry that we can share.