It was the Ancient Babylonians’ fault. They were the ones who started the whole resolution-making thing 4000 years ago.
They organised a 12-day song and dance to celebrate each incoming year. There was a bit of crop planting; sometimes a new king was crowned; they promised to repay their debts; and then they paraded statues of the gods through the streets, hoping to curry favour for the next 365 days. This all happened in March –because of the crop planting issue.
The ancient Romans continued this tradition, celebrating their new year on March 15 – The Ides of March. Until 46 BC, when Julius Caesar introduced a new calendar, and declared January 1 to henceforth and forever be the start of the new year.
This was, he said, to honour Janus, the Roman god of transitions. Because he is the god of dualities (life and death, good and evil, war and peace, for instance) Janus has two faces – one facing the past, the other facing the future. So perhaps I should blame Janus for my end-of-year angst.
As the new year creeps closer, my looking back face agonises over everything I have failed to accomplish. My looking forward face vows to do better next time. Eat more greens. Drink less coffee. Bake gluten-free cookies for the neighbours. Bite my tongue before speaking to my sister. Exercise more. Stop watching Bachelor in Paradise. It would be simpler to sacrifice a piglet and let the gods take charge.
Research has found that more than 80% of New Year’s resolutions are broken before February. Mine have been among that 80%. Every. Single. Year.
But no more! I have traded resolutions and broken promises for a “Word of the Year.”
A recent Google search for “how to choose a word of the year” produced 2.8 billion hits. Once again, I am not alone. The rationale (I think) is that selecting a word helps us focus on a state of being, rather than doing. Less prescription, more inspiration. Less chance of failure. More room for hope.
The word I chose for 2023, made with all the exuberance of a 59-year-old, was “adventure.” I was going to try to do as much as possible before the big six oh.
I should have heeded Aesop’s warning – be careful what you wish for. If you read any of my Beacon pieces last year, you’ll know that adventure did indeed happen. The mistake I made, though, was not being more specific. There are adventures that are fun. And then there are those that are not. Lesson learned.
I resolved to do better in 2024. Keep it simple. Use the dictionary. Choose a one-syllable word. Three syllables were obviously just asking for trouble.
I took my time. Let the words stew. There were some frontrunners. All befitting my newly-wise 60-year-old-self. When a two- or three-syllable word flitted through my brain, I quickly rejected it. Janus was not going to get the better of me this year.
Just before new year arrived, I was in Kelowna, visiting family. We were playing cards when I realised I still had not chosen my word. As I shuffled the pack, I explained the word-choosing process. I asked each of the family members to pick their word, hoping for some last-minute inspiration. There was some to-ing and fro-ing. But far too quickly everyone had chosen their word and it was my turn.
There were Christmas decorations, flickering candles, salted caramel chocolates. And a new baby. A beautiful, soft, wide-eyed baby. My nephew’s baby boy. And in a peculiar case of DNA transmission, he looked just like my nephew had when I first met him – 33 years ago. His flyaway hair. His smile. His Winston Churchill frown. The way he stared at me without blinking, as though he could see into my soul.
He smelled like fresh flowers. And love. The future. Possibility.
And before I could stop it, my word popped out.
Only one syllable. But not terribly serene. Or wise. Or even sensible. Not even vaguely sixty-ish. But it was too late to take it back. (That’s the rule.)
So, as 2024 enters, I take a deep breath, bend my creaky knees in anticipation, and hope that it’s a fun kind of leap. Not a drop off the edge of a cliff kind.
And if the landing is wonky, I will definitely blame the baby.
What's YOUR word for 2024?
This piece appeared in the January 2024 edition of the Beacon newspaper.