Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions Vs. Wishes

Have you heard about New Year’s resolutions? If you are from North America, you certainly have. In case the tradition of annual resolutions is not so popular in your country, this is a commitment that a person makes to one or more personal goals. “Next year, I will learn another foreign language” is a good example of a New Year’s resolution (and one of the most popular ones). What makes resolutions different from everything else is that they should be something that you could strive for as a person.

In North America, you are supposed to try hard to achieve your goals, but Russians hardly make any resolutions at all. We wish each other good health, joy, peace and happiness, and a lot of things (normally, less abstract, like a pile of money, a new car, a new romance and so on) to ourselves. It doesn’t mean that a person who wishes for a new car has a plan on how to get it or is going to work hard to achieve this goal. This is a desire, and, in a big part, a hope for good luck.

The concept of luck is very important in the Russian culture. During the ages of economic instability and multiple social and political crises, many people in Russia have learnt that success is often not a result of hard work, but rather of good fortune. Why commit your time, energy, or mental capacities for anything that could be smashed in a moment by forces that are much, much stronger than you? Just to mention a few, poor weather can destroy your yields, corrupted authorities can acquire your business, and financial crisis can annihilate all your savings.

However, if you can not take control by rational means, you always have a bunch of irrational tools, like signs and superstitions of all kinds. I know many well-educated young men and women who read their horoscope regularly. Many online and printed media in Russia offer their suggestions on the way you should spend New Year’s Eve in order to attract Good Luck and scare away any misfortunes. Just this morning, my mom told me, half joking, that I made an awful mistake by choosing a chicken for New Year’s Eve dinner, because eating chicken during New Year’s Eve this year may attract bad luck.

Ancient Russian pagan beliefs, like fortune-telling and card-reading are popular too. The Twelve Days of Christmas (Святки, Svya:t-ki) that start in Russia on January 7th is the best time to probe for fortune and make specific magical rituals. At the age 13-15, my friends, teenage girls, and I tried to tell our fortune with the help of a wax candle and water. The shape of a wax drop in the water was a hint - what it reminds you of is what will happen to you next year. Looking deep into the reflections of two mirrors and watching for subtle shadows was also a popular fortune-telling technique. Of course, coffee grounds would meet success among us, but it was hard times in Russia, and the best you could get was instant coffee, which has no grounds.

Language is an obedient servant of the mind. There’s no direct translation for “New Year’s resolutions” in Russian. The closest is “новогодние обещания” (New Year’s promises), though “новогодние желания” (New Year’s wishes) is more common.

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?

Bees Wax Candles
Photo by Chris Campbell