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New year resolutions

by Alan Townend

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bull (a sort of order or decree) stating among other things that the beginning of the new year would change from March 25th to January 1st. Most of the world therefore has lived under the Gregorian calendar for the last few hundred years.

I have been told but I certainly can't prove it that the length of the Gregorian year gives an error of one day in roughly 3,225 years, which to my unmathematical mind makes me want to congratulate Pope Gregory for doing a really good job.

The trouble with January 1st is that it brings with it to most people's minds the idea of «resolutions». When you «resolve» or are «resolved» to do something, you are determined to do it. Politicians love the word. The new leader of a political party stands up and declares or even states (note that politicians always declare and state, they never use words like say): I am «resolved» to stamp out poverty in this country, look after the old and give our children a good education. They make speeches like this with a «resolute» expression on their faces — a look of determination of defiance even. In this country we give the name «Resolute» to our warships. Nothing will stop them. But back to «New Year resolutions». These are things you solemnly say you are going to do during the next 364 days, or at least you say you will. They are your «intentions». You «intend» to do them. You're going to get to work on time. You're not going to kick the cat or shout at the dog. But then remember that old saying (the origin of which is lost in the mists of time): «The road to hell is paved with good intentions» — in other words you start off meaning to be good but slowly as you go down the slippery path and you forget what you intended and end up exactly where you started.

You can of course elevate your aspirations — think higher nobler thoughts and talk about «objectives» and «goals» — things you want to reach in the future. You set yourself tasks that you will fulfil with the passing of time. You draw up a «life plan» showing how by a certain year you will become a millionaire, live in a large house surrounded by fields and buy the most expensive car in the world.

At the same time you can also use another pair of words suggesting what you intend to do — «aims» and «targets» and that makes you sound business-like. It's what companies do. Their aim is to produce more and the extent of their production is their target. Then again the old saying gives you a warning: «Pride comes before a fall» — this comes from the Old Testament in the book of Proverbs. It suggests that if you think too much of yourself, you are likely to experience a fall — a failure. That's the point: if you make a resolution and you tell everyone, then you have to keep it. I have a confession to make. Most of the ones I have made over the years usually «fizzle out» — interesting expression that one because it means literally come to nothing after a good start. It comes from «fizz» — the sound made when you take a cork out of the bottle of a bubbling drink. Again there's a sort of firework you hold in your hand that sparkles and fizzes and then stops. You've probably noticed I've gone away from the main subject of resolutions. And that's because I've decided not to make any this year. How about you? The thing that really intrigues me is what happened on January 1st 1583. What do you reckon? Having changed the whole calendar, did Pope GregoryXIII himself make any New Year resolutions?

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