About 25 years ago I made a New Years Resolution. And, unlike most people, I have kept it.
It is probably useful to start with the fact that my birthday is 31st December. New Year's Eve. Hogmanay as we call it in Scotland. We all have little quirks about us that are intrinsically part of our very being, things that make us feel a bit different, a bit inconsequentially special. This is one of mine. When most people find out when my birthday is they pass some comment or make a joke about it, which reinforces my belief that it is a bit out of the ordinary and I am special, despite the fact that around 1 in 400 people share it with me (bonus useless fact to anyone like my partner who just read this and smugly declared it should be 1 in 365…births are not spread equally throughout the year).
I was too young to attend my first ever party. My parents ran a hotel with 2 pubs. My mum graciously said to my dad that he didn't need to spend time with us in hospital because the bars would be busy and he would be needed. Being the manager and having just had a baby girl, meant that the many punters kept his glass full all night. They kept decanting shots of Southern Comfort into his glass (which to this day he can't drink) when he wasn't looking. Highlights included him kissing a policewoman on the street and arguing with my auntie who said he was not allowed to go to a party.
Legend has it that when he walked downstairs towards the reception foyer, a crowd of people were drunkenly singing "Flower of Scotland". They saw him coming and started panicking that he would throw them out for being too loud. Instead, he leapt over the banister, landed on the reception desk, and started conducting them.
When I was little my birthday made me popular, because all the kids went to my parties. For parents, the opportunity to get rid of their child for 2-3 hours during the sugar-rush hell that is the Christmas holidays was not to be missed. The parties were epic because my parents ran a hotel, so we had a massive ballroom to accommodate everyone in mine and my brother's classes, sound systems, a catering kitchen and an army of teenage dishwashers who were recruited to entertain us (they were all very used to indulging me). Like most little kids, my birthday was my day to be special, and it just so happened to also be a special day. My mum hated these parties. She finds large groups of children overwhelming, so she would find excuses to go to the shops, "We have run out of prizes / ice cream / Valium."
On the other hand, having a birthday so close to Christmas as a child can suck. "Joint" presents were a common thing. Getting your annual quota of presents for the year at the same time was tough. Sometimes even back then it felt a teensy bit like the festive season overshadowed my birth right. Did I mention that I was an indulged child?
At this stage, New Year's resolutions were something that grown ups made to make them feel better about themselves. People would declare that they were going to make some change that for some reason they couldn't make any other day of the year. I was too young to pay attention to whether anyone kept them, or to care.
My teen years brought a new element to the parties…the joys and pains of alcohol. My parties became even more epic. I mean, everyone in the world parties on my birthday right? I would go to the bar and I would see all of my friends and acquaintances. I didn't even need to send invites. Everyone would be full of new beginnings, hope, good spirits and strong spirits. Singing, dancing and cathartic crying. All ready for the next year to be the best year. In my mind, all celebrating my birthday.
I guess it was then, in my teenage years, that I really became aware of the New Year's resolution. The irony of people nearing the end of a month long bender saying that they were going to drink less, eat less, work out more. It made no sense to me. We were having fun, living our best lives, why make a rule that you aren't going to do the fun stuff anymore while you are doing it?? Even at the time it felt like their enthusiasm would be over before their hangover.
As I hit my twenties, my world expanded beyond the North East of Scotland. I went to different parties, different cities, different countries, with different friends. Street parties, club parties, house parties, secret warehouse parties, forest parties, fireworks (having fireworks to celebrate your birthday finishing is bittersweet). All for my birthday.
I had wild times, fun times, deep and meaningful times…but gradually I started having…"okay" times. The more amazing parties I went to, the harder they became to equal the following year, let alone beat. The gay bar in Cologne where the only German I spoke was singing a verse of "Neunundneunzig Luftballons" (which got me free drinks all night), the exclusive hangar filled with smoke and glitter and sweat, intimate discussions with strangers who became my best friends and we resolved that we would stay in touch forever. If last year was better than this year, then someone else must be having a better time than me right now. On my birthday…the audacity!
The resolutions continued. Gym bunny friends would complain about their gyms being overrun by quitters in January (stay out of our pubs in December then!) Self-perceived fat friends would refuse to eat anything with too many calories in it (or fat, or carbs, or dairy, or whatever the fad diet of the moment said). Smoker friends would be…grumpy. I continued to not understand. Why not change at any other time of the year, when it would be considerably easier to mentally prepare yourself to take the required action to meet your goal? Lifestyle changes don't happen by saying, "I am going to change today." They happen by planning, setting safety nets, understanding potential failures and making appropriate provisions to mitigate them.
As my thirties appeared out of nowhere, more and more people started to say, "I don't really celebrate New Year, what is the point?" "It is just another day." "I don't know if I will even bother staying up for the bells this year." It became harder and harder to find something fun to do or a party to go to with people who were not young enough to be my children. That is not to say there have not been some great times…one in Tenerife with my partner, one at a local village where everyone is welcome, one extended family party at my brother's mansion (which wasn't big enough, so he stuck another mansion on the side of it), but the days of wild abandon have gone. No more crazy adventures. No more best-friends-for-one-night-only. No more underground parties. No more red balloons.
People around me will continue to make the same New Year's resolution that I heard them make last year, and the year before, and the year before. And they mean it every time. And if it gives them hope, makes them feel better about over indulging for one night (or a few weeks), then who am I to take that away from them.
Oh, and my New Year's resolution from 25 years ago? I said, "I am never going to make another New Year's resolution ever again!"