Sometimes I think that all the hoopla about New year's resolutions is just a way of filling the void Santa leaves behind when he and his reindeer head back up to the North Pole.
As Christmas approaches, everybody waits for Santa with bated breath. The suspense - anxiety, really - is toxic. People die of it. No really, people literally do, every year.
There is so much build-up, starting right after Halloween. People count down the shopping days until Christmas. Then, when Christmas morning finally dawns, they count their presents. What did he bring me?
Everybody waits for St. Nicholas to arrive, but nobody notices his departure.
The poem "The Night Before Christmas" written by Clement Clarke Moore back in the Nineteenth century ends with the words "But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight, 'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!'"
Now, though, after Santa drops off the gifts, nobody gives him a second thought. No one thinks to ask "Did St. Nick say good-bye?" or wonder whether he got back up the chimney all right. He might as well have fallen off the face of the earth, for all we care.
But it isn't just about the presents. This is also a time for connecting with friends and family, fraught with myriad emotions, many of which have been buried as long as Chinese century eggs. It's anybody's guess how palatable they'll be when they're finally dug up.
(I've read that preserved eggs are rather sulfurous, although considered by many to be a food item.)
Next follows a week of self indulgence, as people admire their presents, go walking in a winter wonderland, think about writing thank-you notes, polish off their cookies and possibly fruitcake - I haven't seen much fruitcake - and sip eggnog by the fire, if they're fortunate enough to have a fireplace, or else next to their holiday lights.
As Louis Armstrong sang in my favorite Christmas song, "Christmas Night in Harlem," "Everyone is gonna sit up/until after three/everyone will be all lit up/like a Christmas tree."
Children are out of school and at liberty to fight with their siblings since, as I said, Santa has already dropped off the presents. No reason to be good now for almost a year, which to a child feels like a dog year, or even longer.
New Year's Eve carries its own pressures, a year-end self-inflicted self accounting as niggling and unreasonable as IRS income tax forms will seem in a month, or two, or three.
It's really cold after New Year's day. That's one thing you notice. Even though this has so far been a comparatively mild winter, January is the coldest month of the year, except of course for the January thaw, usually on Martin Luther King day, when skiers and ice climbers flock to the Adirondacks.
Now comes the time for undoing Christmas. Somehow, during all the Christmas preparations, we forgot about the tasks entailed in getting back to everyday life.
All right. Those or us who set up real trees have to take them down and get rid of them, showering needles all over. Fir needles and tinsel rival glitter in their ability to evade clean-up, and may be found for months afterward in odd places around the house, in the car and stuck to furniture and clothing.
Decorations have to be packed up and put away, according to a more or less organized system that we hope we will remember when it's time to bring them out again. Some things may have to be exchanged, for various reasons, and there will be big trips to the transfer station.
Resolutions to do better in the New Year abound, as evidenced by floods of televised diet ads. Pounds gained from rich holiday food and drink must be shed.
Are the resolutions we make a holdover from Puritan days, a negative reaction to the buying and spending and pleasurable indulgence of the holiday season?
Do the bleak wintry landscape, glowering skies and chilling winds remind us that life is short and that survival depends on discipline?
Or are our resolutions simply the result of an admirable, heartfelt desire to be better people, to live up to our own individual standards, starting off with a clean slate in the new year?
It doesn't matter too much in the long run where resolutions originate, because we will forget them soon enough.
Get on with it. And happy New Year.