Tuesday, January 1, 2013
I have been asked by a friend to address the issue of New Year's resolutions. Specifically, she wants to know if it's different in Europe than in the States and if Leif and I are resolution makers. So here is my guess regarding cultural differences, informed only by my own experience and not based in any reality other than the one I currently inhabit. It's a question that really would require me to have a working knowledge of many of the -ologies that can be studied, none of which I'm an expert in. Remember that as you read on.
I think that modern New Year's resolutions are most popular in the United States but that there are some European countries that are following the fashion and making New Year's Eve a kind of watershed moment like many Americans do. If I was asked my opinion I would say that celebrating the new year is common to every culture, but the idea that the last year needs to be eclipsed by the next year is a very American idea. In the United States there is always room for improvement and satisfaction with your life somehow implies that you don't care about success.
We draw a line in the sand on New Year's Eve and proclaim our dissatisfaction with some aspect of our lives and resolve to live differently. We assume our own brokenness and then make a (usually) over-zealous plan to fix ourselves. Then, because we're American, we go out and just do it, convinced that we can't fail and then we often do fail, because we're human. Then again, maybe failure happens because most New Year's resolutions today are to look better or become more successful (ie. money, position or possessions) and the standard for success is defined by other people, not ourselves.
On a personal level, Leif and I don't make New Year's resolutions. He just isn't the kind of person to choose a random date to change something about his life. Like me, he doesn't find it necessary to draw that line in the sand and say that on one side is the person we were and on the other side the person we want to become. We're constantly in the process of becoming, in small ways and large. It matters not one little bit to me if someone thinks my butt is too big or my house is too small or my work isn't prestigious enough. I suppose it sounds terribly unromantic and uninspired to simply wake up each day and remember that I want to be the best person I can be and to feel gratitude for the chance to live such a blessed life but that's what I do and will continue to do as long as I keep waking up.
I will say that here in Italy New Year's Eve is a celebration of life. It's filled with friends and family and food and wine. It happens in homes and restaurants and in Florence they've moved it out into the streets by staging live music performances in some of the major piazzas. I don't even think they're celebrating anything specific, like surviving another year. Italians just like a good party and they're very, very good at them.