Guest Commentary: Beyond January
Celebrating a birthday on New Year's Eve of each year brings with it a heightened sense of new beginnings and resolve. If I look back on my journal entries, I'm very strong in January and into February but by March and heading into spring, I'm lamenting the fact that I'm falling behind.
I'm not one of those who gorges through the holidays trying to pack in as many calories as possible before 'the diet' purges away the pounds.
I have learned to enjoy my caloric intake and accept my fondness for the comforts of anything containing cream cheese.
At one point during the year I actually wore a pedometer for one day. My doctor had told me how beneficial walking is for your circulation, stamina and sense of well being. I have never disputed the affect of exercise. Some of my finest fitness moments have come after a good workout or run through the park. But those moments have been random rather than routine. Attempting to log 10,000 steps, I found myself lacking several thousand and the day was about to end. I'd either need to get on the treadmill to make up for lost steps or peddle the pedometer. In the end, I decided that the plastic counter was not nearly as attractive as wearing an extra bracelet.
One year I decided the best decision was to resolve not to resolve. Better that than risk failure at a well-intentioned self-improvement 'to do' list for the coming year. That actually worked very well.
Historically, we have the Romans to thank for making January the first year of the month. Deriving its name from the Roman Janus, a two-headed god who could look backward at the year past and forward to the year ahead, Janus was also the patron of arches, gates, doorways – endings and beginnings.
During this period in Rome, the custom of making 'new year's resolutions' came into vogue with a moral flavor – basically to be good to one another. Then in the 4th century when Rome took Christianity as its state religion, these moral intentions were replaced with prayer and fasting. This had varying degrees of success over the centuries as those who didn't share the faith were more inclined toward revelry rather than resolutions.
By the time we get to Colonial America, the Puritans avoided any indulgences associated with New Year's celebrations and by the 18th century avoided even calling it January. They preferred “First Month.”
In contrast to this, the Puritans urged their children to skip the revelry and instead spend their time reflecting on the year past and contemplating the year to come.
This custom of making resolutions were enumerated as commitments to better employ their talents, treat their neighbors with charity, and avoid their habitual sins.
One 18th century theologian, Jonathan Edwards, made writing resolutions into an art form. Upon his graduation from Yale, Edwards took a two-year period crafting some 70 resolutions addressing various aspects of life.
Here are just three:
◾Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
◾Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it.
◾Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining and establishing peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects.
I rather like the speaking simply and establishing peace resolutions. There's no foregoing of sweet things and I think they could be handled without a pedometer.
Happy New Year and may your resolutions be without pain.
Anita Sherman is the managing editor of the Culpeper Times.
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