It is the beginning of January 2020. A couple of age-old rituals keeps being repeated at his time, and across time and cultures. The reason is, perhaps, fairly obvious. The New Year represents a clean slate, a tabula rasa situation were we can forget the past and start anew.
For most of humanity, for most of the time, these were – and still are – rituals in connection with the first Moon after Spring Equinox, that is, around the second half of March. This actually makes a lot of sense, given that these were agriculturally-based societies, and that the diurnal and annual rhytms grew up around agricultural activities, and this was the time when the agricultural season began anew after a period of inactivity during the winter. This is still an common, even official, event in many cultures and countries, including several in which I have lived. Today, in our globalized world, these New Year celebrations in March often exist in parallel with the Western notion of 1 January being the beginning of the new year.
The Romans were, I believe, the first in the Western Hemisphere to celebrate new year in January (after all, the month of January is named after their God Janus). There would appear to be some logic to this. The Church in the fourth century decided that Jesus was born on 25 December. One reason for this might have been that this was mid-Winter in the northern Hemisphere, otherwise known as "winter solstice", which astronomically marks the beginning of lengthening days and shortening nights. Up in Norway, my home country, fixing Jesus' birth around winter solstice fitted nicely with the traditional pagan / Norrøn festivities at this time to mark the gradual returning of the sun. The Christian celebration of Christmas thus over time replaced the old traditions. The existing Roman calendar became the basis for the Julian Calendar in the 7th century, and the Gregorian Calendar in the 15th century. From the beginning these calendars were intended for both civil and liturgical purposes. Early on, due to the Catholic Church's near global reach, in turn followed by the more recent globalization, the Gregorian Calendar has become the de facto global calendar.
And so it is that people throughout most of the world, around 1 January, tend to wish one another Happy New Year. Also, we make promises or resolutions to ourselves. An increasingly popular resolution concerns the climate and climate change, doing our individual bit to reach collective goals. This is my resolution, to myself and to the world around me. In addition, I have a very personal one.
Making promises is easy. Keeping them is exceedingly difficult. We fail repeatedly because we tend to promise more than we can realistically hope to achieve.
Enters this cartoon by Liniers. We have 365 opportunities to realize our New Year promises. When we fail – as we likely will – we get another chance, and another one. In fact, we get a new chance for each day of this year! This is a deeply humanistic approach to New Year promises or resolutions.
I hope to realize both my climate resolution and my very personal one. The question is what to do? How to contribute? For most of us whatever we can do is on the very personal level, including, what we eat, how we heat our house, how we travel (to work and on vacation), how we treat household refuse/garbage. It is, admittedly, not easy to understand - not to mention see - how our changed behaviour and values at this level can contribute to meeting collective and global climate change goals. Nonetheless, we have no other avenues to follow. The only thing we can do is do our best, contribute, and believe that we together will contribute to making the necessary changes, which, in the final analysis, comes down to decreasing the increase in temperature.
I may report here on my effort to live up to my climate-related resolution (the personal one will remain personal), certainly if all goes well, and I do not use all the 365 opportunities I have been granted.
To all of you I wish all the best with realizing your own resolutions – to the self and to the world!
(1) An earlier version of this article was posted on my Facebook timeline on 4 January 2019.
(2) The title of this article is taken from the poem "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening" by Robert Frost. The last stanca reads: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep". URL: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42891/stopping-by-woods-on-a-snowy-evening
(3) Photo credit: cartoon by Argentine cartoonist Liniers. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liniers_(cartoonist). Note: this is an older cartoon, it does not account for 2020 being a leap year.
(4) Permalink: https://devblog.no/en/article/promises-keep
(5) This article was published 4 January 2020.