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Op-Ed

I resolve nothing

December 30, 2021

New Year’s resolutions, which can be traced back nearly 4,000 years, could do more harm than good, if anyone bothered to keep even one of them.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution, because most of the ones I’ve heard are people promising to stop doing something they enjoy, or start doing something they dislike. I see no point in either of those things.

A typical resolution for an alcoholic is to stop drinking, or for a guy who’s 90 pounds overweight and loves pizza to stop eating it and start exercising. What are the odds?

In the real world, these resolutions make no more sense than it would for a guy who runs six miles every day to vow to knock it off next year and get fat, or for a sober guy to promise to drink more alcohol. 

So when did this insane, bogus tradition begin, and who is to blame for it?

Scrupulous research (which the immortal Dave Barry defines as “farting around on the internet”) shows that Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt (reigned from 1479-1458 B.C., give or take) dedicated the first month of each year to a “festival of drunkenness.” The festival celebrated the Sun God Ra, who had outwitted the War Goddess Sekhmet, who was planning to kill “all of humanity.” The way Ra did this was getting Sekhmet stoned to the gills on beer, sex and music around New Year’s Day.

Let’s hear it for the Sun God Ra!

As this bash lasted for a month, I imagine the first New Year’s resolutions actually began around what we call Groundhog Day, due to splitting headaches up and down the Nile Valley.

(I need hardly remind you that Hatshepsut was the second female pharaoh, after Sobekneferu, the last ruler of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, who cashed in her chips in 1802 B.C., after ascending to the throne upon the death of Amenemhat IV, her brother and husband, which led to the old adage: Φίλε, αυτοί οι Αιγύπτιοι ήξεραν να κάνουν πάρτι (“Man, those Egyptians know how to party.”))

The Chinese — always eager to rip off someone else’s patent — adopted the New Year’s tradition during the Shang Dynasty, whose rulers inscribed their laws on tortoise shells.

Sadly for the Shangs, but not for their subjects, that dynasty ended around 1046 B.C., because their final emperor, Di Xin (not to be confused with Xi Jinping) “enjoyed torturing people,” which the people — and this goes to show how fickle the people can be — didn’t like.

Still, it shows what can happen when you let the people pop off to the emperor.

Scrupulous research (vide supra) has not revealed why the Shangs wrote their laws on tortoise shells. In fact, should you Google “laws written on tortoise shells,” you will get “About 6,620,000 results (0.48 seconds).”

To save you the time, I can tell you that none of the top results will tell you anything about the Shang Dynasty. In fact, if you tried to read all these “results,” and managed to read each of them in one second, it would take you 1,839 hours of “research” to come up with, I suspect, nothing. So don’t bother.

No need to thank me; always glad to help.

The Shangs, however, did introduce the tradition of cleaning their houses on New Year’s Eve, to cleanse them of bad luck, and some of the Shangs also tried to pay off their old debts. The house-cleaning tradition survives in many countries today, though debt payoffs not so much. This is known as the New Year Rollover Tax Deduction Resolution. (You must enclose IRS Form NYRTDR-1492, in triplicate. Late penalties may apply.)

Most New Year’s resolutions in the Disunited States today are ostensibly aimed at trying to improve one’s health. However, pollsters, and the few remaining honest citizens among us, tend to agree that most New Year’s resolutions are driven by what theologians call “the indulgence of the Christmas period.”

We could discuss indulgences now, but in the spirit of the season, let’s not. I kind of like this Pope.

So, happy new year. Eat, drink and kiss Mary, for tomorrow we die. Or the day after that. Some day, for sure.

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