What if a new year was like Pride: a chance to be more fully ourselves?
I used to hate New Year’s Eve. I’d snap when I was asked if I had any New Year’s resolutions and sneer when others told me their own. There is nothing magical about the number at the end of the year going up by one: why would it suddenly allow a person to unlock some secret part of themselves they hadn’t previously been able to, or give them the willpower to do something they couldn’t or wouldn’t before? It doesn’t, not really. But I think part of that is because we’ve been looking at poor, misunderstood January the wrong way.
January gets a bad rap; the exciting feeling of potential is often worn down by capitalism doing its dirty work and trying to make us feel inadequate so businesses can profit. Diets and exercise regimes and other products wrapped up in the idea of the ideal version of ourselves whisper constantly and seductively at us from TVs, computers and phone screens, when really all they are saying is we are not enough.
This has been rightly criticised by psychologists and activists such as Jameela Jamil, but I would urge you not to give up on the concept of January. The inherent power in new starts is their heady cocktail of unlimited potential, and January 1st struts around every year to give it to us; we shouldn’t shut it out when it comes knocking.
New year’s resolutions are often framed as moving away from who we are and towards some other, supposedly better, person, but if we do that all we’re doing is resolving to reject ourselves and move away from who we are. Not only is that deeply sad, it’s also destined to fail. Since we can’t be someone we’re not, why do we torture ourselves by making it a goal to do so once a year? That’s a lot of stress to put on ourselves and much-maligned January.
My hatred of NYE and of its irksome resolutions only faded a few years ago. After a decade of never seeming to get invited to the parties and always feeling the instagram FOMO I finally made the decision to give up on it entirely. I was actively going to have a quiet evening with my pajamas and a good book, maybe watch the fireworks on TV with a glass of something, and then retire in peace to get a good night’s sleep smug in the knowledge I was not having to battle the post-midnight commuters. Then a friend asked what I was doing in a group chat. I informed her with all the superiority of a self-declared hermit and she told me she’d bring her pyjamas too. Then another friend said she wanted to come. Then another.
Suddenly I was part of a pyjama party with some of my closest friends, and it was the best NYE I’d had since I was a kid. Ever since then it was a tradition unbroken till this year, with some of the people changing but all of them beloved. And before I convince anyone that the answer is to give up and become a hermit, what it really showed me is that NYE is only terrible when we let ourselves be convinced there’s an ideal way to celebrate. Hallmark-esque that might be, but it also helped me unlock the gloriousness of January. I’ve not been able to do anything but love NYE since, even this year when I couldn’t be physically present with any of my friends.
If we set goals that try and remake us into some ‘new’ version of ourselves, they will fail, because we will always be ourselves. That’s why January should be about celebrating ourselves, letting us toast our own progress, and then setting intentions to spend the next year becoming even more ourselves. That’s not to say stopping bad habits or self-destructive behaviours shouldn’t be goals, but if they are a resolution it should be about healing rather than hurting ourselves.
Looking around last year at the NYE sleepover I got to be part of, I realised almost everyone there had also been at that same flat celebrating Pride that summer, and that I’d been able to see all of them come out and slowly grow into themselves over the years and they had seen the same in me. January should have the same effusive energy as Pride month: a time where we let ourselves gleefully glory in how far we’ve come and then take stock and start to plan how we can go even farther.
New starts remind us of our unlimited potential, but that feeling shouldn’t just be present when we begin something – whether it’s a new job, relationship, or year. I believe most of us don’t change so much as become more and more ourselves, the same way a sculptor can see an emerging piece of art rather than a chipped piece of stone. And that is why January should be one of the best and queerest months; it reminds us to come back to ourselves and gives us the optimism to keep chipping away.