New Year’s resolutions are not a modern concept. Indeed, the Victorians and Edwardians had definite ideas about getting a fresh start during the impending new year. Surprisingly, some of their notions closely mirrored 21st century desires to reform and be one’s best self. Not surprisingly, a great deal of skepticism abounded about the general ability of the populace to actually follow through on these goals. People have been struggling with New Year’s resolutions for many years.
Psychologists and educators point to the validity of setting goals and the benefits of periodically evaluating one’s life and future. Many point to the advantage of writing down resolutions, as one then has something to refer to and to remind them of these “goals.” Consequently, our Victorian forefathers made a ritual of putting pen to paper on January 1st.
The vice of drinking was a big concern in past times, but the idea wasn’t to quit cold turkey, but merely to be more prudent about the amount and frequency of imbibing. Many felt that limiting one’s intake of alcohol to three cocktails per day was a noble resolution. It must be noted, however, that few men kept to this regimen for very long.
Even more concern was expressed over smoking than drinking. Many references state that although tobacco sales dropped off for the first two weeks of January, tobacconists reported even greater sales than previously by the end of the month. Human nature remained constant!
Another most popular resolution throughout society was the vow to be more polite and courteous. This was done, according to periodicals of
the time, to make a favorable impression on visitors and foreigners. Puck, a very widely read magazine, encouraged the ceasing of the following bad habits:
– bringing crying infants to the theatre
– trying to get change for large bills at the train station during rush hour
– leaving the door open after exiting a building
– violently slamming on the breaks when operating a trolley car.
Those seem like reasonable expectations! The resolutions might then be followed by sending a New Year’s greeting to friends and family. The cards would most likely feature pigs, as they were considered a sign of prosperity. Happy New Year!