I must look like a person with a lot of problems. For a week now, people ó some I barely know ó have been asking me if Iím making any New Yearís resolutions.
I cleaned my desk (I do this twice a year just in case there might be an envelope with a check in it amid all the detritus that accumulates on an editorís desk) and everyone wanted to know if I had resolved to have a clean desk in the new year. How do I answer that? If I say yes, they all nod sagely as if to say, itís about time! If I say no, they shake their heads as though they are doctors standing over a terminal patient. Either way, I look bad. Is this what these people have resolved for the new year? To make me look bad?
Then there are the health care professionals who ask me if Iíve made any new yearís resolutions. Shouldnít they know better? What, do they think Iíll say? Yes, Iíve resolved to never eat sugar again and to run five miles a day? Certainly I canít say what I really mean: Yes, Iíve resolved to never again feel guilty about a pouchy stomach and half-barrel abs. I donít think theyíd take that very well at all.
So far no priests or ministers have been so bold as to ask me point blank about new yearís resolutions, but they all sneak such thoughts into their sermons. I think they have a business deal with psychologists to make us feel so guilty we have to go in for at least one session a week on the couch.
I actually have made some new yearís resolutions, but I have no intention of sharing these with another living soul. That way, if they donít work out, no oneís the wiser and I can just forget about it.
Wouldnít you know it was the Romans who started the silly resolution business. Their emperor, Julius Caesar, proclaimed the new year in his Julian calendar to begin on January 1. They named the month after their god of beginnings. He is pictured with two faces, one looking back and one looking forward. There were various attempts by Christians to move the first day of the new year, one being to December 25, and then to March 25. Then in the sixteenth century Pope Gregory XIII put a stop to all the nonsense and moved it back to January 1. Otherwise, without New Yearís day, there wouldnít have been an opportunity for a day off from work until 1986 when we got Martin Luther King Jr. Day. January is sadly lacking in holidays, just when you need them.
Nearly all civilizations wish for good luck in a new year. The Chinese paint their front doors red for new yearís, the color of good luck and happiness. In several countries there is a tradition of hiding something in food ó an almond in Norway, a coin in Greece ó and the person who gets it is supposed to have good luck throughout the new year. In Spain they eat twelve grapes at midnight, one for each stroke of the clock, for good luck. In Wales, they usher all the bad luck of the year out the back door at the beginning of the stroke of midnight, and then welcome the new good luck into the house through the front door.
The only place where I can really get behind their traditions is Sicily, where itís good luck to eat lasagna on New Yearís Day, and bad luck to eat macaroni. I could eat lasagna any day of the year, and feel lucky to have good food.
I wish you all a Happy New Year, and hope you arenít beating yourselves up because youíve already broken your resolutions.