Let’s talk about…Rounding out the year

Rounding out 2022 by resolving to not focus on…resolutions

Today – Wednesday, December 21st – marks the northern hemisphere’s 2022 winter solstice, the day when the earth’s tilt places us at our farthest point from the sun, making it the shortest day and longest night of the year.

Though nowadays the winter solstice passes us by unceremoniously, the occasion actually has fairly significant cultural roots in Ireland – historically speaking at least.

Referred to in Irish as ‘An Ghrianstad’ (which literally translates to ‘the sun stop’), undoubtedly the most famous evidence of our historical celebration of the winter solstice is to be found in County Meath, where the 5,200-year-old Newgrange passage tomb stands, the history of which, similar to other ancient Irish sites (one close-to-home example being Rathcroghan in Tulsk), is intertwined with phenomena such as solstices and equinoxes.

The Newgrange monument, which covers about an acre of ground and overlooks the River Boyne, pre-dates Stonehenge and the pyramids, but it is most famous for its association with the winter solstice; the tomb was specifically designed to align with An Ghrianstad’s rising sun, constructed in such a way that on the morning of the solstice, light is able to travel through the roof-box and along the 19-metre passage into the inner chamber, dramatically illuminating the otherwise dark space for a stretch of time.

In a way, Newgrange being designed to completely fill with light on the darkest day of the year is representative of the larger ethos shared by the ancient Celts around celebrating the solstice. Despite the occasion marking the peak of the winter and of seasonal darkness, it’s also a turning point steering us away from that same darkness, and it was considered time of rest, recovery, and appreciation for all ahead.

The mythology and reverence behind an Ghrianstad’s celebrations might be outdated and utterly irrelevant to the lives of today’s Irish people, but the perspective around the occasion is not. Given the state of the world and how many people suffer mentally at this time of the year in particular, appreciation for the turning of the seasons and taking this time to rest and recuperate are more important than ever.

Unfortunately however, if anything, the argument could be made that nowadays, heading into a new year inspires the direct opposite effect in people; it’s less about taking the time to rest as we finish out the darker season and more about getting a move on by the time January 1st rolls around so we can set into our resolution commitments.

In general, I’m not a huge fan of New Year resolutions (and not only because I’m bitter about never being able to keep them). Of course, I understand the motivation behind making them and why they’re such a big phenomenon – it’s the idea of kicking off the year with a fresh start, and the fact that as the holidays go away, so do our excuses to overindulge, etc.

However, beyond the onset of the new calendar year, there doesn’t seem to be much reason in choosing January 1st as the moment you begin attempting to overhaul all your bad habits. It’s usually still just as cold and dark as the other winter months, except this time there’s no festive season to look forward to, which hardly makes it a very motivating time. It’s also usually a time when people are trying to cut back after all the holiday expenses, making things like signing up for that gym membership, seeing friends more, or opting for the healthier (but more expensive) grocery options, a lot less feasible.

Of course, anything that motivates you to look after yourself better is great stuff and very welcomed, and I’m glad that for lots of people, the new year does provide that opportunity to put their goals in motion. But on paper at least, there doesn’t seem much point in waiting around until January to get started on your resolutions – in fact it seems to me like bad timing, if anything. Embarking on your goals some random day in August could be just as (or perhaps even more so) effective as starting on the first day of January.

The other aspect of new year’s resolutions I’ve never understood is the entire 0-to-100 aspect of it all. I don’t know who the titans of willpower are that go from spending the final days of December in pyjamas eating Christmas Dinner leftovers, to waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the gym on January 1st, but I mean fair play. I’m just not sure how well that jump tends to go for the rest of us.

After all, you wouldn’t start off training for a marathon by putting on your shoes one random morning and setting off to cover the 42km straight away. You have to build up to it. Forming healthy habits, like anything else, takes practice.

When we attempt to build habits by starting off at full force, resolving to deal with all our vices and chase all our goals at once so we can be perfect new versions of ourselves for the New Year, we usually end up putting too much on our plate. This can lead us to quitting on our personal resolutions before we even give them a fair chance, and that dampens our motivations to pursue healthier habits the next time around.

Making strides in your own personal development is brilliant, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once on January 1st. Instead of putting pressuring on ourselves to commit to rigid New Year’s resolutions this year, perhaps we would be better served by taking a leaf out of our ancestors’ book; viewing this time of the year as a time to rest and recover, to look back in appreciation at the months gone by, and to look forward with hope.

Happy holidays to all who celebrate, and here’s to a happy and healthy New Year!