The New Year: When Does It Really Begin? I’m thinking it’s around Ground Hog Day this year…

Mark Pynes |

It took me years of feeling overwhelmed in January and feeling like I was failing miserably in the New Year before I realized what I was doing it all wrong.

We celebrate the new year on January 1st and we rush into the month with resolutions and fuzzy plans for the new year. But after spending most of the month of December preparing for and celebrating the holidays, does it truly make sense that, like switching on and off a light, we try to face an entire new year in a space of 24 hours?

I have enjoyed many New Year celebrations and, over the years, I have tried all sorts of ways to deal with the emotional roller coaster that follows during the first month of the year. What I have found is that it is better to think of this time as a season of sweeping out the previous year, rather than the beginning of a new one. Now, of course, you have things to do in January that are part of the new year and that you can’t avoid. You still have to put the correct year on your checks and, if you work for pay, your job is in its first quarter of the New Year. But, psychologically – especially for your personal life – it is best to think of this time as a season of reflection and preparation.

Taking Stock of The Old Year

Before overloading myself with plans for the new year, I find the month of January is usually full of debris left over from the previous year – and some of that debris has little explosives filled with hidden emotional charges. The best thing to do is to allow yourself adequate time to clear it all out. Below is a breakdown of the main problems I usually encounter each year.

The first week of January

The first day after New Year’s Eve is a holiday. So, January 1st is not a day to start anything new. I am either making a large family dinner or it’s a day of rest. Best solution: Relax.

The rest of that first week in January is a time for cleaning up from the holidays and taking down decorations. For me, this is a sad time, so while it might not take more than a few hours to put the holidays back into their storage boxes, it can take a few days to get to that task and/or a few more days to get over the grief of it.

The house looks empty without all the seasonal things. The dust and dirt seem to have multiplied under the decorations. You might feel this is a good time to do “spring cleaning.” Trust me, it is not! If you must do something, clean what really bothers you, but don’t overdo it. This year, for me, cleaning the living room ceiling fan and sweeping out the dust behind the couch were a must. But, I stopped there. Spring Cleaning – if a man or woman ever has enough time for it these days – is a task for the spring. Do not stress over it now.

The second week of January

This week is when I start to deal with all those appointments, repairs, and other things that were put off until “after the holidays.” Scheduling or rescheduling takes time on the phone or computer. The thought of more money leaving your bank account after the holidays can also a stress factor. I have no solution for money problems except to say that if you have them, then finding a solution should be part of your strategy for the New Year. I understand that sometimes nothing can be done to change your situation. I have lived through such times. Some things cannot be fixed. Still, if you do find you have options, but are delaying – then now is the time to gather the courage to make the necessary changes.

The third week

It is not until this week that I begin to draw up a new schedule for things like New Year’s Resolutions. I make better resolutions than I used to. I try to make small changes rather than grand big ones. It may be that I need to call some people more often. It could be I need to add more exercise into my week or find new recipes because the old ones are not working out. Perhaps I want to read more or paint something.

More often than not, even small things can be too many things. So, before I start adding the new things, I write out the things I must do each week and how long it takes to do them. Then I write them all out again and assign the days and times to them. Once I have done that I can see how much time I have for new activities. This is where I find out if there is actually enough time for all these things I want to do. I then have to decide what I will prioritize this year.

By this time, three weeks into January, one is generally back in the swing of a normal schedule and can evaluate free time more accurately than at the beginning of the month when one is still in the holiday spirit. This is a better time to prioritize the changes you can realistically make to your schedule.

Also, by now you may be dealing with the stress of life’s “extras.” If you are starting a new job, selling a house, dealing with a new baby or with an illness in the household – these are things that come first. You may have to delay new resolutions to later in the year or save them for the next one. It is even possible you have to cut some things or rearrange your entire schedule rather than create the one you want.

Like me, you will probably have a full schedule already. You may be able to add some things, but not the full list you began with. Try to remember there are times in your life that will be more busy than others. And some years you will be able to change up one activity for another. You can do a lot of things – but not all at once.

The Fourth Week of January

This is the week I am ready to try out my new schedule or to fully return to an old one. In this way, I can determine what still works. Are the changes I made to the schedule practical? Usually my new schedule is not much different than my old one. I am old now, so I know what works for me. But, what makes the schedule feel new is that by the end of January I am usually ready – mentally and physically – to try to accomplish everything on it than I was in the first days of January.

Hopefully by now, you have been able to sweep out the old year and begin the new one. But, there might still be obstacles ahead, so the end of January is another good time to reevaluate your situation. Taxes and winter doldrums are usually the next big obstacles to the successful changes in a new year.

The Taxman Cometh

If you file a tax return, then the old year is not completely over. Depending on how complicated your taxes are, this task may extend well into the next month or longer. And it is better to get done what you can do now, rather than wait till the last minute in April. Later on, you won’t want to be searching for documents or trying to remember crucial details of the previous year. April is the beginning of spring – better to be out enjoying the weather at that time than doing your taxes.

Winter Doldrums and Depression

Towards the end of January, many people suffer serious depression. Mental Health experts point to the third week in January as some of the hardest days of the year for many people. If this is true for you, it may take the entire month of January before you can begin to start to deal with the tasks we have discussed. That’s okay.

Some years it simply takes longer than others to get started. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Thankfully, I live in Texas now, so it’s not as bad as it was in New York. Still, the early sunsets affect me and unfortunately, mold and Cedar pollen add to sluggishness at this time of the year. It’s always something that slows us down.

My solution? Find and hold onto the good that you can see. For me, the fact that the sun, in the Northern Hemisphere, rises a little higher in the sky every day cheers me up. I am aware that February will also have its challenges, but every day we march onward towards spring. My spirit and energy will return. I have many years of living through this cycle to remind myself that better days are coming.

Ground Hog Day and the Spring  Equinox

In North America, we have a fun tradition on February 2nd, where a groundhog predicts the beginning of spring. Ground Hog Day and Candlemas occur on February 2nd. Both celebrations have traditionally involved folk weather predictions for the spring. If the weather is clear on Candlemas then spring will be delayed. Similarly, if the groundhog sees his shadow on that day, then there will be no early spring.

Whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, the Spring Equinox occurs around the 21st of March. In ancient agrarian cultures the New Year began at this time – not in the dead of winter. Furthermore, in Christian societies, the season of Lent was developed not as a purely spiritual exercise, but as a practical way to help people get through the last lean weeks of winter before the Spring planting. In our modern society we are slaves to a mechanical clock, not to the movements of the planet as we once were. I think this is a mistake and that we would be better off if we spent more time adapting to our environment rather than to our inventions.

So, here we are. Ground Hog Day is tomorrow. And perhaps you feel you botched up this year needed changes or due to things beyond your control, you feel like you can’t begin. That’s fine. Start today – or tomorrow – or give yourself a few more weeks. If you need a third month after January and February – it’s all good. The actual start of the new year does not begin until the old year has been completely wrapped up and put away. So, if you need more time, then take it. In fact, you have the whole winter to finish whatever needs to be done.

Whatever the Groundhog will predict tomorrow – warmer, brighter days are coming. 🙂