Do over

Editorial Notebook

January 10, 2004|By Will Englund

NEW YEAR'S EVE was 10 days ago already, and if you're like a great many people, it was a holiday best forgotten. It rarely lives up to expectations, it's frequently more exhausting and less fun than it seems it ought to be, and by now you've either forgotten or broken your resolutions.

So, want to try again?

Think Moscow. Maybe you imagine Russians to be a grumpy, sullen people, standing in endless lines for miserable chunks of black bread -- but in fact if they are standing in line today, it's more likely at the checkout counter with another shopping cart full of champagne. They're still careening through an extended bout of holidays, and in the process they just may have stumbled onto an idea that -- given the right sort of American get-up-and-go -- could lead to a brilliant advance in human happiness. What happened there is essentially a historical accident, but the best things in life are like that sometimes. Here's the deal:

For two centuries, Russia refused to join the rest of the world in switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, and as a result fell 13 days behind everyone else. When the Communists came to power in 1918, they immediately made the switch -- and also began celebrating the secular New Year's Day while excluding Christmas. Then the Communists fell out of power in 1991, and an already resurgent Russian Orthodox Church moved back onto center stage. But the church never recognized the calendar change. Russians began to celebrate Christmas again -- but on Jan. 7. And what comes a week after Christmas, in any calendar? New Year's.

So now Russia has two New Year's Eves, the modern one and the antique one, which falls Tuesday night. New New Year's and Old New Year's. And why choose between them? Winter is long and life is short.

You could, if you chose to, gather some friends together, put on a funny hat, stay up too late, and toast the midnight hour. It's bound to be better the second time around, because you'll know which friends not to invite, you won't have to watch Dick Clark on TV, and nobody will be expecting anything special -- so what could go wrong? (You'll find out at work on Wednesday morning.)

But why not take this idea a step further? All those new year's resolutions -- a second chance! (And here's where we've got a leg up on the Russians, where the idea of willful self-improvement has yet to catch on.)

Let's say you resolved to quit smoking and on Jan. 2 lit up again. No fuss. Now you can start over.

But there's a more intriguing possibility. Maybe, to take an example, you resolved to eat fewer desserts. That's already starting to pale a little, no doubt. Well, here's an opportunity to refine that promise: You'll eat fewer desserts, yes, but those you do eat will have chocolate in them. Give this thing a little focus. Put a reward in. Save yourself from breaking a resolution with some strategic modification, some helpful prodding and poking. You'll only be doing yourself a favor. And that self-loathing that comes from failure? What failure?

Psychologists say that the best way to keep a resolution is to make a reasonable one in the first place, and plan for it ahead of time. Fine. This would give you two weeks to plan for what undoubtedly started off as an impulsive vow to yourself, at about the moment the band swung into Auld Lang Syne. Professional advice also says this: Resolutions are easier to keep if you drink less and get more sleep. Well, you saw what happened Jan. 1. Do it better this time.

And if all this still doesn't quite work? You'd really like to throw a little whipped cream into that dessert resolution? Don't despair -- Chinese New Year's is just around the corner.

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