Every year without fail, I have resolved quietly to not make any New Year’s resolutions. By doing so, of course, I’ve already broken that promise before even getting out of the gate. I’ve long thought that the marking of the passage of time in this way is a bit banal, at least for me.
I don’t even really observe my birthday anymore. To put it plainly, my birthday was, for my parents, a pain in the ass, falling as it does just three weeks after Christmas. For this reason, I would always get everything at one occasion or the other, or just a little bit at each – which brings to mind the musing of an old co-worker of mine, whose own birthday of June 25 was, he declared, the best one to have because it meant “I get a bunch of gifts exactly every six months!”
I even dropped out of traditional Christmas gift giving years ago, not because I don’t enjoying giving gifts – I really do – but I don’t like the idea of a religiously-annexed Pagan celebration being used by a consumerist culture to guilt me into buying things for people. I think gift-giving should be spontaneous, for the sake of the giving itself, for the joy and the surprise that appears on the recipient’s face when they accept the token of friendship and love.
One ritual I always enjoyed was traipsing around the big drafty house in which I grew up and plugging in the decorative, electric white candles that my mother placed in nearly all of its thirty-two windows every December. As I did so I would also think, “What a waste of electricity!”
Looking back now, I know why my mother clung to those white candles. Not to say that she was phony – she wasn’t – but she was deeply concerned about appearances. While the interior of the house – and her happiness – slowly crumbled, both strangers and neighbors passing by around Christmastime every year could see our beautiful old gray house as she wanted it to be seen – as a beacon on a dark and dangerous corner. That meant a lot to my mom, and so every year those candles would go up.
If only I could get my hands on my family photos again – there is an image in particular that is tugging at my memory right now. In that first year that my mother decided to put up those candles, she decided also to take a photo of the house from across the street. In those days, the hobby photographer without the benefit of his or her own dark room had to bring a completed roll of film to Rite Aid, fill out the correct envelope (35 mm or disc film? Black and white or color? Singles or doubles?), drop the package in the bin and wait for days – sometimes over a week – before putting his or her hands on the prints.
What resulted from my mother’s hope for a lovely Christmas card was an image of a house set on fire from within, yellowish flame bursting from each window.
Luckily, my mother laughed off her disappointment at this particular turn and at her clumsiness with the camera. The photo did end up in the family album as a joke, where it remained for years and was forever a source of amusement and laughter.
Every year, my mother promised that she would quit smoking. “I promise ye, hen, fir yir birthd’y.”
And every year she broke her promise.
This year, in an odd fit of nostalgia, I bought a string of white lights to hang in our apartment. No tree, no ornaments, just some soft white lights that have remained plugged in since the day I brought them home from the hardware store. They bathe the kitchen in a soft light that reminds me very much of that same light that shone in my bedroom windows in Hebron as I drifted off to sleep.
I’ve even thought about honest-to-goodness New Year’s… maybe not resolutions, but I’ve toyed with a few fancies. I’d like to learn a new instrument – the fiddle maybe? I have small hands for something like that. I’d like to read more, like I used to. I’d also really like to volunteer for an abused women’s project – I’ve already put in an inquiry with a local agency. “What can I do?” I sincerely asked, being a survivor of domestic abuse myself.
Well, we’ve nearly made it once more around the sun. What things does the number 2014 have in store? How will we mark the days? A new year coming really does feel like a clean slate, doesn’t it? Let’s resolve to fill it with honesty and beauty.