The sentiment of another holiday season is winding down. The boughs of the Christmas tree are heavy with ornaments they had the strength to hold a few weeks ago but now struggle to support. The garlands are dry as tinder but whisper a hint of holiday cheer of past parties, gatherings and friendly conversations. The lights - a reminder of anticipation and excitement as families and friends gathered, still flicker in the frosty snow. Extinguished candles burned low, the mantle bare, stockings scattered throughout the house suggest hours of festivities as they appeal to be boxed up, packed away and stored for another season. Sweet confections lie about reminiscent of desire, now suggesting a heaviness of sugary self-indulgence.
The work, the shopping, the baking and cooking, the travel, the wrapping, the lists and the endless tiny details that go into making a holiday season memorable now in the rear view mirror. The crescendo mounts over the last few months and weeks of any given year and then seemingly evaporates with mere traces of itself to be shuffled, organized and swept away. There is an end - and in my case a sense of fatigue. A good kind of tired; a satisfied weariness of knowing that family togetherness was worth the personal cost.
This process of letting go and slowing down is replaced by another sense that percolates to the surface with a notion of a new and fresh beginning. There are hints from the retail shelves, to television advertisements that I am not alone in this type of awakening.
What is it about this season that initiates and cultivates something deep inside all of us where one journey ends and another begins? The crossroads of seasons; where one year collides with the next. I became curious about how and when it all started. The most obvious place to start was the traditional and sentimental song Auld Lang Syne that no New Year’s celebration goes without. This song originated in Scotland in the late 1700‘s by Robert Burns as a reminder of people known and relationships remembered. This is more a tribute and reflection of the past and does not really address the notion of a commitment to new years resolutions and new beginnings.
Perhaps the answer can be found in another song that often is associated with the New Year. Ring Out, Wild Bells originating from a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson and published in 1850, points the reader toward the future and a promise of something better.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go:
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness if the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
These few verses of a much longer poem seem a bit more on point. They suggest personal reflection and desire for improvement by replacing vices with virtues. Upon closer examination, it started far earlier than Lord Tennyson’s poem about letting go of the old and ushering in the new. Ancient Babylonians began paying their debts to their gods by making promises at the start of each new year. Romans had a similar tradition as did knights during the Medieval Era. New Year’s Resolutions and starting anew was not cooked up by a clever Walmart marketing team. This stuff goes way back. No wonder it feels so innate.
There seems to be some reference to reminicising and remembering but much more emphasis on looking forward. One of my favorite talks is by Jeffrey R. Holland entitled, The Best is Yet to Be. We can learn the lessons from the past as we should, but looking forward with hope and faith is a successful pattern for all of us. “As a new year begins and we try to benefit from a proper view of what has gone before, I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future. Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and events that will yet be efficacious in our lives.”
Looking forward is a conscious action that suggests progress and every action comes from a simple idea. The idea precedes the act itself. Every action is completely voluntary, purposeful and calculated. Action is really faith or hope at work. Mankind seems to have a desire to look or work for something better. It appears to be in our DNA because this idea has been around for a very long time.
Due to the fact that I am a shameless list maker and a multi-tasker, I am all over this New Year’s resolution and list making business. It feels as natural as a warm pair of socks on a cold winter’s evening. I really dig this stuff. However, making a list and doing a list are two completely different things. If only I could be as good at accomplishing my lists as I am at making, organizing and even color-coding them.
Apparently, I am not alone on that front either. A study was conducted in 2007 by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol where 88% of 3000 participants failed in their New Years resolutions despite feeling a level of confidence at the beginning of the study. If you question this just go to any gym in the US on January 2 and then again on the 25. Enough about that!
There is a great deal of advice of how to make resolutions, i. e., make just a few, keep them realistic, write them down, tell others to garnish support and accountability. Many people have given up on the notion of setting resolutions altogether because of fear of failure.
Of all the possible ways to work up a New Year’s plan, I think I have come up with a plan that works for me. It may seem ridiculous to some and counter-intuitive to others. There is a saying that “life begins where your comfort zone ends.” “By never setting the bar high, we never aim high.” “If we always aim for the realistic, we don’t push ourselves any higher.” Yet, in spite of all that, we have to lighten up a bit and incorporate some small, frivolous wishes and desires along the way to something greater.
A few years ago, I was inspired by a cute young friend. She was turning thirty years old and decided to make a list of thirty things she wanted to accomplish before her birthday. What a great idea. My list was significantly longer since I am in my fifties but I decided to write down all the things I have been wanting to do. Some of those included going to the Grand Canyon, taking the train from one end of the valley to the other to see the development and change, meeting a new neighbor, cleaning out my pencil drawer in the kitchen, blah, blah, blah.
Some goals are more significant, some are indulgent and just plain fun. Others are just tasks that need to be done in my home with my work and for my family. The practice of writing down what I want to make happen gives me a better chance of getting it done. My list of goals can also be fluid, they can change as it becomes obvious that something is impossible to accomplish. I merely add something else. I never achieve all my goals and I never stress about what doesn’t happen. I realize whatever I achieve is far more than if I didn’t have this list at all. Sometimes it is the small stuff that brings you joy. This list has enabled me to focus more on the small joys and pleasures around me.
Auld Lang Syne and Ring Out Wild Bells have brought new meaning to me and the way I choose to fill my days. There is much I can improve on, but I refuse to feel heavy and burdened by the notion. If we don’t add in some fun, who will?
Image by ormondrankin.com, Joseph Campbell