“Raise your glass and we’ll have a cheer / My dear acquaintance, a happy new year,” sings Peggy Lee on her Winter Wonderland collection. In writing this piece I was surprised
to discover so many songs about the new year, and found that there were some
thoughtful ideas amongst them. More on Lee’s heartfelt tune later.
We’re now over a month past the glassraising of New Year’s Eve and by now many
of the big sweeping resolutions made (this year — yes, this year! — I’ll be the person I
want to be and do the things I want to do!) around the world that night, the bold brave
promises, will be lying in the dust of back-to- work-and-school routines.
For some people though, the calendar ticking over from one year to the next goes
largely unobserved. These people are asleep in bed well before midnight on December
31, getting ready for another day of enacting small resolutions and little promises in
the aid of faithfully living out their particular call and carrying out their particular
I’ve mentioned Paul Kelly’s song Little Decisions on this page before: “Little decisions
are the kind I can make / Big resolutions are so easy to break”. Otis Redding puts it a different way in New Year’s Resolution, a soulful 1967 duet with Carla Thomas: “Baby, let’s make promises we can keep.”
George Nooks is a little vague on his own New Year’s Resolution, a summery reggae
tune: “For my new year’s resolution, gonna be a better man.” Perhaps this is the way forward though: to keep the big decision, the end goal, in mind, but then each day make
the “little decisions” necessary to actually effect change in our hearts and lives.
It’s not going to happen on its own. We rightly resist the idea that simply because
the calendar has flipped over from one year to the other, things will be magically,
spontaneously different. This idea comes through in songs like Pentatonix’ New
Year’s Day: “Tomorrow morning when we wake / This town will be a different place
/ And the past will wash away like coffee stains.” Against this is the reality expressed
in Death Cab For Cutie’s The New Year: “So this is the new year / And I don’t feel any
different / . . . And I have no resolutions / . . . For problems with easy solutions.” But
we’re not falling into despair that things will never change, that this year will be just like
the last with its failures and frustrations.
There’s surely a better way than that expressed in Great Lake Swimmers’ Gonna
Make it Through This Year: “I am six feet under snow / And I have nowhere to go /
. . . Guess I’ll leave it up to fate / . . . Gonna make it through this year.” Rather than
merely making it through with gritted teeth, we’re hopefully keeping the end in
mind like Nooks, or like Frank Sinatra in Let’s Start the New Year Right: “Let’s start
the new year right / . . . Our hopes as high as a kite.” Otherwise, as Abba put it bluntly
in their Happy New Year: “May we all have our hopes, our will to try / If we don’t we
might as well lay down and die.”
Nooks sings of reaching his lofty goal by “being a giving man”, and Lee touches on
similar ideas: “For strength of your hand / That’s loving and giving / . . . With love overflowing / With joy in our hearts / For the blessed new year / Raise your glass . . . / To
all that is gentle, kind, and forgiving.” Small acts of kindness, taking the first step to
forgive and repair ruptured relationships, being gentle in word and deed: these things
are the spark for change in our hearts, our lives and our world.
“Let’s start the new year right”, sung Frank Sinatra in 1943. How do we do that? As 2017 began, Pope Francis tweeted this: “Let us entrust the new year to Mary, Mother of God, so that peace and mercy may grow throughout the world.”
Six weeks into the new year, if failed resolutions are leading to us “feeling lost and feeling blue” as Abba put it, it’s not too late to remember with the poet in the Book of Lamentations that “[God’s] mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning,
so great is his faithfulness” and each new day make little decisions to work again for
mercy and peace in our own small circle of influence.