The rumble of new trainers on treadmills rings out in gyms across the land. Shopping trolleys are filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, while doughnuts and cream cakes look lonely in the supermarket aisles. All that’s left from Christmas is some ham in the freezer and a lingering sense of guilt. You’d know it was January all right.
Now, at the halfway point in this most miserable of months, seems a good moment to question what it is about New Year that compels people to make resolutions. I will resist the temptation to liken the practise to Oscar Wilde’s maxim about good intentions being a vain attempt to interfere with scientific laws; if anything, I envy those for whom New Year is occasion for festivity and rejuvenation. For me, it is little other than a time for moroseness, and the awful realisation that we have thirty-one days of January to get through.
If the Grinch had an overlooked younger brother with a vehement disregard for ringing in the New Year, I reckon that I could challenge him for his title. To paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge in saying that every idiot who goes around with ‘Happy New Year’ on his lips should be drowned in his own champagne and buried under a mound of leftover sprouts would be, to my mind, only a little harsh. Part of my dislike of New Year comes from its status as an event: New Year’s Eve is one of those nights, like St Patrick’s Day or Halloween, where common thinking dictates that You Must Go Out And Have The Best Time Ever. This means that everywhere is packed, and the pressure to have fun can make the night something of a disappointment.
I would hasten to add, however, that I have no desire to ruin other people’s enjoyment of New Year; I wouldn’t be much fun anyway, as is probably apparent by now. Indeed, I underline the fact that I wish I felt the same way as revellers enthusiastically chanting the countdown. It’s never been a night I particularly enjoy, and generally prefer to stay in for it, sad as this may seem. For I have always thought New Year’s Eve to be a curious, downbeat date in the calendar: you’re stuck between ruminating on the past year and wondering what the future might bring. Perhaps I am just in a particularly maudlin mood as I begin the last term of my undergraduate degree. While I don’t regard myself as a particularly melancholic or defeatist person—on the basis of this article, I’ll admit that this is, perhaps, hard to believe—it usually occurs to me every New Year’s Eve that I don’t want the year to end; that there were things I started and didn’t finish, or didn’t even get round to at all.
Karl Marx is alleged to have said that ‘last words are for fools who haven’t said enough’ (ironically enough, these are also said to have been his last words). Can we say then that New Year’s resolutions are for fools who haven’t done enough? I would disagree. It is natural to wish we had more time for everything, and to wonder about what-might-have-beens. Nonetheless, if I am this dour at 22, I dread to think about how I will feel on New Year’s Eves yet to come. But, at the same time, there is nothing to be done for it. Time passes, and my brief annual despondency quickly gives way to the kind of seasonal affective crabbiness that most people suffer from. I know that my New Year’s Eve gloom is irrational; it would probably make more sense, cliched as it may be, to try my best in future to think of New Year as a clean break.
However, I find it hard to look past Wilde’s aforementioned teaching on the inevitability of not keeping to our good intentions, and thus turn to another Irish literary legend for advice. In James Joyce’s story The Dead, Gabriel Conroy notes in his dinnertime speech that, were we forever to agonise over old memories and opportunities not taken, “we would not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living.” Bearing this in mind seems more helpful in the light of a new year than paying for the yoga class that you’ll never go back to. There is, in theory, no good reason why New Year can’t be a time for positive reflection for us all. That said, Gabriel does end the story with the knowledge that his wife, Gretta, has never loved him as she did her dead childhood sweetheart, Michael Furey. Maybe this time of year is cursed after all.