Resolving the whole, messed-up 1/1 thing Parody: When your promise of self-improvement has failed by next week, eat something, have a drink, light up, and blame the Babylonians.

January 01, 1998|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF Sun news researcher Andrea Wilson contributed to this article.

And so we begin again. Again.

Jan. 1, New Year's Day, has been a marker since 153 B.C., when the Roman senate declared it the first day of the year. Until then, March 25 had been the beginning of the year, which made sense, given that this was the time the Earth began to renew itself. But, as emperors will, they tampered with the calendar, and soon it was out of sync with the sun.

In fact, Roman emperors just could not keep their greasy mitts off the calendar, and it soon was off-kilter again. It took Julius Caesar himself to set things right again in 46 B.C. All it required was letting the previous year last 445 days -- just like 1997.

The result? An arbitrary date for an arbitrary custom: the making of resolutions. A time for looking back and forward, January is named for the two-faced Roman deity Janus, also known as the god of middle-level managers.

But the custom of making resolutions predates even the Romans, going all the way back to 2000 B.C. and the Babylonians, who would party for 11 full days at each year's end. They most often vowed to borrow farm equipment in the New Year. Eleven days of partying will do that to you.

When the Christians came along, they found the holiday impossibly pagan. Then they took it over (they had a habit of doing that). Jan. 1 thus marks the beginning of the Christian liturgical year and is considered an optimum time for self-reflection. Most religions -- Jews, Muslims, Hindus -- have a similar ritual, if a different date.

The fact is, the calendar gives even the agnostic among us unlimited opportunities to re-invent ourselves, or to set off on a course of self-improvement. Birthdays are popular in this regard, as are Mondays. There is the childhood custom of saying "Rabbit, rabbit" upon waking on the first of the month, in order to bring good luck. Health clubs see the biggest increase in their memberships not in January, but in March and April, when

swimsuit season threatens. In fall, school starts, and fresh notebooks promise the illusion of change, at least for a few weeks.

In W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939," the "dense commuters" make the same vow every morning: "I will be true to the wife, I'll concentrate more on my work."

Then there are those who are born to reform. In "American Fried," Calvin Trillin revealed that his father was the type of man who exercised his willpower just for the heck of it. These are the people, Trillin wrote, who awaken one day, stare at themselves in the mirror and declare: "My friend, you have eaten your last scrambled egg."

But most of us, as the psychologists love to remind us at this time of year, are doomed to fail in our efforts to change. Our resolutions are too big, our wills too puny. Survey says: More than half of all Americans make resolutions; one in four will fail by the second week. Half will have slipped up before two-faced Janus has finished his 31-day reign.

Of course, this being 1998, there is an Internet solution for all of this, even if you don't yet have Windows 98. For those who really wish to glory in their failure, StrayerNet Technologies offers "1998 New Year's Resolution Repository."

Here's how it works: You create a resolution and send it to the Web site (see http: //www.strayernet.com for details). You will receive a "full color confirmation certificate, suitable for framing." And your resolution will be kept on file for the world to see. If you include your e-mail address, the site will even send you periodic reminders of your pledge.

"Imagine," the site says, "just when you are at a low point, you receive your message reminding you of the goals you set."

Imagine -- your computer with a neat little bullet hole through its monitor.

Another thought: Today is Thursday, really nothing special, another arbitrary day created by an arbitrary emperor, and a pagan to boot. The weekend looms. The Rose Bowl looms. (Fun fact: The Rose Bowl once briefly abandoned football games in favor of chariot races, but reinstated football after several Big 10 chariot programs ran afoul of NCAA regulations.) The point? It's not exactly the best time to stop drinking, eating, smoking or swearing.

xTC Besides, isn't it possible that you're perfect the way you are? Or, at worst, that the only thing you really need to do in 1998 is borrow some farm equipment?

Pub Date: 1/01/98

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