All over the world, New Year’s Eve is celebrated in a variety of ways. In the US many of us watch our TV screens as the ball drops in Times’ Square. My grandmother used to go to the movies. She told me that before midnight they gave out horns and other noisemakers. As midnight struck everyone blew and rattled vigorously. Making a loud noise is one way to drive out any lingering old negativity and start the new one clean and fresh. We have a bell collection and I go around the house ringing each one at midnight.
There are many superstitions associated with the coming of the New Year. Some go as far back as the height of the Greek and Roman civilizations. There are also attempts to predict events for the New Year. I remember my parents once melting lead in a ladle held over the fire in the fireplace. The melted lead was then poured into cold water and examined after it had hardened. The shape it might take was used to predict something for the new year to come. I was quite young and all these years later I can’t remember much more than that.
The old year is often portrayed by an elderly man tottering about and the New Year is portrayed as a baby or young toddler. Father Time himself is seen as an older man with a long beard, carrying a scythe with a long handle. He uses it to cut through the past and reap it in order to help us make use of what has been learned or experienced as we move into the future. Toward that end, most people feel it is important to make New Year resolutions.
As the new year approaches many of us will be doing just that. Sadly, most resolutions will be broken and probably forgotten by the end of January if not sooner. I believe resolutions are best not made, because inevitably we choose not wisely but with wishful thinking. What we wish is often to be thinner, spend less, save more, exercise more, or take better care with whatever or whomever we cherish. Our resolutions are made with well meaning and not realistically, which is why we don’t or can’t keep them.
Most of our resolutions are for what we believe we ought to be doing—losing weight being the most common. Yes, often it is important to lose weight for our good health. Yet making a resolution to do so almost invalidates the effort. It implies that we are making a special effort, not that we are participating in normal behavior. Yet what is usually best is for us to be mindful of what and how much we eat on a daily basis, rather than make a heroic attempt that leaves us feeling hungry and deprived.
The New Year is a good time to look over the last twelve months, see how far we have come, and assess how far or not we may need to go. One of my husband Stephen’s favorite phrases is, “Take your time.” Perhaps that might be our best possible resolution: To take our time, to see what really needs doing and then use the time we have to accomplish the goal of that moment. When we can do that, we are better equipped to live effectively as well as to observe carefully how we are doing. As to resolutions in general, resolving to be kind, to be thoughtful, to be more mindful might be easier and more effective than giving in to our “oughts.”