You would think the first months of the year, would be the oldest. Not so. Both January and February were late arrivals (comparatively) to the Roman calendar. The spring solstice marched in the beginning of the new year prior to 700 BC.
The weird thing is that it wasn’t as though they had different names for January or February that later shifted. The time between what we now know as December and March was month less… 60-ish winter days orphaned. Was this time outside of time; a seasonal wormhole? Was the dead of winter so lifeless that it was not to be properly marked? Furthermore, how did the ancient Romans know when to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth or Valentine’s Day for that matter? Pagans; go figure.
February was named after a pagan purification ritual performed around that time of year, which is interesting from a Christian liturgy standpoint as Lent begins in the second month. January draws its title by way of the god Janus. [
Insert anus joke here.] He was the god of beginnings, ends, and transitions, often symbolized through objects like doorways, gates, and of course, the lazy-Susan.
Janus is also imagined as being two-faced, looking both forward and back. The problem with this of course, is that it gives no credence to the eternal now. The past and future are important in their appropriate context. They provide vision and perspective, helping to establish boundaries. But one thing they are not good for, is living in. When taken out of context they distort reality rather than inform it, becoming prisons of nostalgia or blueprints of living beyond your means.
Rumor has it that way back in the way back when, the Romans made their promises to Janus at the (new) beginning of the year. Likewise, the Babylonians (who made baby-back ribs popular) paid off their debts at this time and returned things they borrowed.
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If my numbers are right, about a week ago over 100 million Americans, roughly 45% of the adult population, made New Year resolutions. About 96 million of us (92%) will fail to keep them. A good ole 100% of resolutions deal with self-improvement; 70% outright with things like fitness and financial management, the other 30% on improving our sense of worth through feeling good about helping/spending-time-with others.
There are apps to help us reach the elite 8% or if you are really avant-garde about life you could hire a New Year’s Resolution trainer to yell at you until your goal is achieved. Or you could take the philosophical “inception” way out by making your resolution to keep your resolution.
“What’s your resolution this year?”
“To keep my resolution.”
“But what’s your actual resolution?”
“To keep my resolution. It’s like a resolution inside a resolution.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Geniuses are often misunderstood.”
Whatever you do, don’t make your resolution to not have a resolution. I’ve done the quantum physics string theory calculatory diagrams and trust me, it doesn’t end well.
Oh, and don’t worry… if you’re having a hard time finding a resolution, just have the internet make one up for you. My randomly given resolutions were to de-clutter, try harder, and stop-collaborate-and-listen (seems as though the world-wide-web is a Vanilla Ice fan, but then again, who isn’t).
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January reminds me of funerals. The cold, dead, lifeless landscape plays into that, but it is mostly because these are the spheres that most common place resolution making happens. What ends up happening at the new year or in death or in crisis moments is that we feel bad for how things were and how we think they should be. Granted, that’s not all bad. But then we say, I’m going to spend more time here, and love more there, and be better in this, and let go of that and we try, we really do, but it ends up having no lasting effect. I think funerals are fickle in enacting any type of soulful alteration in a person because at them we try to comfort ourselves rather than allow comfort to come to us. We trivialize death, downplay grief, medicate the pain and in trying to pull ourselves together deny life in process.
It might mostly be a semantics debate, but the difference needs to be distinguished; change and transformation are not the same. Change is something you do while transformation is something that is done to you. We can change but not develop. True need is the catalyst for transformation for the current envelopment can no longer contain what is about to come, while change only deals with felt need. Change rarely involves transformation, though in transformation change can be an element. There is a difference between infatuation and love, between theology and faith, between politics and seeking-the-common-good.
There are very few things that are designed to be constant in a healthy way. In a world where both entropy and creation are happening simultaneously, for better and worse, things don’t stay the same. A culture of change is tiring and even shame filled, a way to assign value and devalue ourselves and others in all our so called (im)perfections as we force bad to good. A culture of transformation however has a glory-to-glory mentality, a here-to-better mindset that appreciates process over product and deals with grace in that while something might not be “perfect” at this moment, it might be just where it needs to be, and in that be good.
This year let’s stop trying to change and let’s be transformed instead. You will never resolve, and that’s okay.