About five or six years ago my husband and I found ourselves walking to McDonald’s for supersized Big Mac meals and apple pies on New Year’s Day. It probably started because we were a little hungover, very hungry and because pretty much everything in our neighbourhood was closed and our fridge was empty. It started, because we needed to eat and we didn’t much care what it was. McDonald’s isn’t in our regular rotation of food. We tend to save it for road trips or as a special treat. We eat pretty healthy and clean on a day-to-day basis, and I’m sure that morning as we walked home with our bags of fast food I felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t planned some delicious slow-cooked meal to savour on a holiday that I knew would have few healthy options we could eat from the couch.
But something happened that day. As we sat in our sweatpants, watching cartoons, eating our Big Macs and knowing that later, our stomachs would probably let us know how unhappy they were, I felt relief. New Year’s Day—the new beginning, a fresh hope for the future—tends to have a lot of pressure associated with it. It’s the day you’re going to start working out regularly, or you’re going to stop with the fast food, or you’re going to drink more water, or start a bullet journal or, or, or… Deciding to be unproductive and unhealthy on one hand meant that I had sort of ruined the day (and the year) before it even really started. But it also meant that there was nowhere to go but up.
(Image by @sarashakeel)
For some reason, starting the day and year on a low note, purposefully, actually made it easier for me to relax, and contemplate resolutions without the pressure of needing to start on January first. It gave me the space to let January first go, and develop my hopes for the year on my own schedule. So when next new year’s rolled around, we did it again. And that year I found myself thinking about what I wanted for the new year well before midnight on December 31st. I took up yoga more frequently and thought seriously about the steps I wanted to take in my career in November and December. When January first rolled around and we were headed out to pick up burgers and fries, I didn’t feel ashamed at all. I knew that the pressure of a new year wouldn’t really touch me, partly because, again, I had already ruined it with calories and cholesterol, but also because I knew that my success in the year didn’t hinge on starting to keep my resolutions on the first.
We’ve done this every year since. Some years we’ve gone to parties and woken up a little worse for wear, and sometimes we’ve rung in the new year in our apartment, just the two of us. While our new year’s eve plans are often up in the air and undecided until the last minute, or new year’s day plans are rock solid. They’ll involve McDonald’s, our couch and some sort of movie or tv marathon. It’s unproductive, unhealthy and definitely anti-social—but it’s also the best way to start the new year with a little less pressure, and a bit more space to unwind.
While I won’t recommend our exact plans to anyone else looking for a reprieve from new-year-new-you pressure (I understand that the idea of supersized McDonald’s meals might actually create anxiety for some of the healthier eaters reading this), I will say that letting January first be a normal day, or even a “bad” day by health and productivity standards, is a great way to start the new year. The rush and pressure of real life will come back soon enough, and if you are interested in making a change in your life, you don’t need an official start date (or at the very least you don’t need it to line up exactly with the new year). You can relax in your space and take a day to reflect and think and potentially plan without actually doing anything. You can start your year with Big Macs and fries and know that you still have a great—productive, healthy and fulfilling—year ahead of you.
Happy New Year!