Toast the New Year guilt free

Illustration by Michael Safran

Editor’s note: This story was published in the January/February 2005 issue of the Malibu Times Magazine.

It’s time to stop beating yourself up over all those failed resolutions pronounced on New Year’s day during a commercial break in a bowl game or the Rose Parade.

Ever since Caesar changed the calendar to begin the year with Jan. 1-honoring Janus, the god of beginnings and endings with two faces on opposite sides of his head-New Year’s has been a dichotomy of looking back and looking forward. This spawned many superstitions such as “first footing,” where the first guy to cross your threshold on New Year’s day, usually in search of free food or a toddy, determined what kind of a year you could expect. In Ireland, for example, blonds, redheads with blue eyes and people who walked pigeon-toed were believed to auger bad fortune for the coming year. Go figure.

The custom of making resolutions for the New Year began in ancient times as people indulged themselves in the sort of chaos they hoped the New Year would quell. It was an attempt to start over, to confess sins, purge oneself of guilt and hope to do better in the coming year. Of course, you all know how well that worked.

In this country, it was the Puritans who scorned New Year’s revelry in favor of religious renewal and spiritual resolve. Obviously they disdained wearing silly hats, blowing whistles, dancing on tables and wantonly bestowing kisses on strangers. Like other Christians, they often made New Year’s vows or pledges designed to conquer their own weaknesses, to capitalize on their god-given talents, or to make themselves more useful to others. And you thought the first resolutions were made by a fool with a hangover from swilling mead.

Actually, the secular form of New Year’s resolutions became fashionable at the turn of the twentieth century. Although pledged with honest resolve, they seldom gained the traction needed to change entrenched behavior. Hence the need for annual renewal.

Take the most common of New Year’s vows: to control diet, drinking and smoking. Well, you know where the road paved with good intentions leads.

It seems to take much stronger motivation than a night, or a holiday season, of overindulgence to curb these addictions. Those who follow a more religious form of holiday festivities do their dieting in advance of the New Year. They call it fasting. This is a huge help in curbing not only appetite, but guilt. If properly practiced, Advent fasting followed by holiday indulgence leaves your waistline just about where it was at the end of bikini season. No harm, no foul.

One of the problems with post-feasting diets is not in ourselves as much as it is the curse of the modern calendar, which forces these curbs on us at a time when we naturally crave high-fat, high-carb comfort foods and curling up by the fire with hot nogs and grogs. Remember, it’s only been a few decades since fitness became synonymous with health and beauty. For centuries, soft and round was considered far more alluring than washboard abs. Perhaps a retro movement is afoot, accounting for the popularity of Queen Latifa.

The other resolution is likely to come with the arrival of credit card bills reflecting an excess of holiday generosity. It goes something like this: “I resolve never to spend this much money on Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa ever again.” This is also not our fault since retailers shamelessly promote yuletide giving from before Halloween until the January inventory sales. Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s make us do it.

So here’s the plan that will make New Year’s resolutions even more irrelevant than the custom already is:

Shop for holiday gifts all during the year. Whenever you see something that’s perfect for someone you care about, buy it, wrap it and stash it. Don’t forget where you put it. Paying cash or debit cuts the credit card companies out of the loop. No January bill, no buyer’s remorse. Take off 10 pounds before Thanksgiving, while sunny days make long walks on the beach restorative to spirit as well as figure. Since smoking on the beach is now verboten, the sea air will clear the lungs, easing nicotine withdrawal.

You’ll look and feel so good; there’ll be no need for resolutions.

Of course, while others are vowing to give up the habits you’ve already shed, you might raise a glass and resolve not to feel smug.