The beginning of a new year brings an inevitable, yet oddly welcome, letdown — and ultimately a sense of possibility.
A new calendar hangs awkwardly, weighted by 11 other months that remain unseen, like snoozing college students home on break. January, as ever, hangs alone, raising the curtain on fresh starts and clean slates and wondering, as ever, if anyone will applaud.
Not likely. Mostly, what makes January tolerable is that it’s no longer last year.
Still, we step into the month as if we mean to, smiling bravely at our annual resolve to be better (thinner, happier, healthier, smarter) people by next New Year’s Eve. The word January comes from Janus, the Roman god of the doorway, so to step across its threshold has always promised a journey.
The path, of course, is icy.
That’s a metaphor, but here, it’s also the truth. January is Minnesota’s coldest month. Night after night, the average temperature dwells in the single digits. Digits such as 4. We could keep ice cream in our parked cars, they’re so cold.
But bundling up still seems more normal than cruel, because we know that cruel is yet to come. (One word: March.) And someone in the elevator can be counted on to rightly note the lack of mosquitoes.
January’s shivers didn’t used to matter much, because all there was to do was stay home and deny oneself. Even the Super Bowl moved to February some 10 years ago.
But socializing is changing. Now, there are actual parties, spillovers from December’s overstuffed calendar.
Some well-intentioned gatherings pretend to still celebrate the holidays. But honestly, they feel as festive as those strands of tinsel that keep surfacing after the tree is hauled to the curb. These parties merely are breaks in the inaction, when one of January’s most beloved attributes is its utter lack of purpose.
No more shopping. No more baking. No more bustle that, squiggled in cookie frosting, looks like “stress.” January is a necessary restorative, a winter tonic, an invitation to hit pause.
Decorations come down, and we may not put back everything we’d packed away, rather enjoying the spare look. Scandinavians, still a bit touchy at being mocked for their white food and insistence on four-part caroling, bask in how everyone suddenly appreciates their eye for clean, uncluttered lines.
We eat more simply, partly because we’ve resolved to drop a few pounds, but also because we’re burned out on fussing. In January, there’s a lot to be said for scrambled eggs.
Life settles in to basic rhythms. Shovel. Work. Shovel. Sleep. Read. Watch “Downton Abbey.” Shovel.
We call it getting back to normal, even as we pursue a new normal of resolving to become better (thinner, happier, healthier, smarter) people.
Making resolutions is nothing new. Ancient Babylonians, at the start of each year, promised their gods that they would return borrowed objects. Likely, their ancient neighbors never got their hopes up.
The reality of human nature may be one reason the tradition of resolutions continues: Our annual failure to follow through keeps us try, try, trying again. Props to those who achieve their goals, but research shows that most of us give up on ourselves. A British study a few years ago found that almost nine in 10 who make resolutions fail, even though more than half were sure they’d succeed.
Of those who do make good, one factor appears to be a willingness to go public with our ambitions, hoping that peer pressure — euphemistically phrased as peer support (heh) — will propel us.
Yet when you think about, there’s something to be said simply for having good intentions.
Making a resolution involves doing some soul-searching, some mirror-gazing, even glancing up from our phones. It means we’ve found something within ourselves that could stand improvement, and so already have discovered the power of humility.
We believe — we resolve — to change for the better. And we just might.
January’s curtain, glinting with bedraggled tinsel, raises to reveal the most optimistic weeks of the year. Along with being a fine month to nap, it’s may also be the month we wake up.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185
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