Friday, 10 February 2012

Yarny New Year

Celebrations for a New Year take place all over the world in every culture, but this doesn’t mean that it is celebrated on the same date the world over as different cultures have chosen to celebrate it on various days and mark the occasion in different ways. Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year and can begin any time between late January and mid February. The Chinese follow their own calendar which is written according to both the Gregorian and Lunar Solar calendar systems – in 2012 Chinese New Year falls on January 23rd and it will be the year of the Dragon. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, falls on the Hebrew Calendar dates of 1 and 2 Tishrei, which is the first month of the Civil year – in 2012 Jewish New year will fall on September 16th.

In Western Europe most countries celebrate New Year’s day on January 1st and have officially done so since 1752 when the Gregorian Calendar was adopted, however for hundreds of years before this date New Year had been traditionally celebrated by Christians on March 25th with the Feast of Annunciation which is the celebration of the date when the Angel Gabriel is believed to have visited the Virgin Mary to tell her of the impending birth of Jesus – a day which falls 9 months prior to Christmas Day on December 25th. It was Julius Caesar who developed a calendar, which would more accurately reflect the seasons of the year and worked on a cycle of 365 days. The ‘Julian Calendar’ worked well enough for hundreds of years, but it was later modified by Pope Gregory 13th who recognised a slight error in calculations and reconfigured the calendar which was officially named as the Gregorian Calendar in 1582.

The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions dates back to 153 BC when Janus – a mythical King of early Rome – had the first month of the year named after him. In ancient Roman religion and mythology Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions and thus gates, doorways, endings and time. Janus had 2 faces, one on either side of his head - one face looked behind him and the other looked forwards. With 2 faces Janus could see in two directions, looking forward to the future and reflecting on past events, so it is not surprising that he became the symbol for resolutions. At midnight on December 31st Romans imagined their god looking back at the old year and simultaneously looking forward to the new one. In order to appease their God, the Romans recognised the need to reflect on the good and bad things they had done in the past year and make decisions about how they intended to behave in the forthcoming year. They began a tradition of exchanging gifts in the form of branches taken from sacred trees for good fortune. Gifts later became nuts or gold coins imprinted with a depiction of Janus.

The concept of a New Year’s resolution based on looking forwards in time and reflecting upon the past is not confined to Christianity – The Jewish have a tradition of reflecting upon wrongdoings and both seeking and offering forgiveness over the period of time known as the High Holidays which start with their New year celebrations and culminate with the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur and the Chinese have a tradition of sweeping and cleaning their houses in the lead up to the New Year in an effort to sweep away traces of bad luck and prepare their homes for a brighter, wealthier and happier new year.

Many of us make resolutions regardless of when our New Year falls and whether or not we follow a religion. Resolutions are a commitment that we make to one or more personal goals, whether they be work, home, health or habit related. Many of us make resolutions to improve ourselves in some way so as a rule a resolution is interpreted as advantageous and it would be considered odd to make a resolution to smoke more cigarettes, eat more fatty food and do less exercise for example. The most popular goals include losing weight, quitting smoking, improve finances and education as well as making other life style changes such as reducing stress, getting more organised and perhaps even being less grumpy!

It is probably pretty easy to predict the resolutions made by Knitters and Crocheters – they usually involve using or buying either less or more yarn and learning new techniques. I have to admit that I have made the resolution to clear my yarn stash (or at least reduce it a little) over the forthcoming year many more times than once, only to end up with more yarn a year later than I had started with and so no longer make resolutions involving yarn! However Juliet Bernard – editor of The Knitter magazine – made a public announcement at the beginning of 2011 that she would not be purchasing any yarn in that year, but instead would be working through her mammoth stash. Juliet was staggered by the mountain of yarn she had accumulated over the years, a little like those poor people on diet programmes on the TV who are made to face up to the amount of chocolate or sugar they consume, but on the whole she felt that working through her stash has been a cathartic and rewarding experience. Towards the end of her year Juliet told me that, like with any addiction, giving up buying yarn was hardest in the first four months and many times she had to pulled back from the brink of breaking her resolution when tempted by new and ‘delicious’ yarns. Juliet believes that working through her stash has made her really look at the type of projects she knits and the techniques she has used. Juliet gave much of her yarn collection away and swapped a lot with other stash busters on Ravelry and she admitted that letting go of some of the yarn was really hard (especially her remaining balls of black ‘Rowan Kid Silk Night’ which had been in her collection for quite some time) but that knowing that the yarn would go to good use made the separation anxiety less acute.

Designer Debbie Abrahams told me that her New Year resolution is along a similar line to Juliet’s and is ‘to not start another knitting project until I have completed everything that I already have on the needles. I have so many things that are partly knitted - and even some completed panels that only need sewing together! My problem is that I see a new pattern or a new yarn and think, "I want that!" So I get the yarn together, start knitting...and then I see another pattern and think, "I want that as well!” And so it goes on and on and on! If I can get everything completed and in my wardrobe before I begin something new then I will be very happy!’ Alison Crowther-Smith – author of Shibori Knitted Felt, Little Luxury Knits and Lacy Knits - is also keen to keep her yarn related NY resolution: ‘In 2012 I will be working a new book which is a collaboration with another designer. This will force me to knit with some lovely Rowan yarns other than my usual 'comfort zone': Kidsilk Haze and Fine Lace! So, I resolve to work with many other qualities.’ Alison thinks this shouldn’t be too hard a resolution to keep, but does admit to being more worried about her other (non yarn related) resolution which is to run another half marathon!

Recent research suggests that many of us do not manage to stick to our resolutions and a study in 2007 showed that 78% of those who set New Year’s resolutions fail to realize their goal, but whilst this suggests a poor success rate for resolutions, the same study by Richard Wiseman at the University of Bristol also suggests that people who voiced their resolutions and set themselves reasonable goals were more likely to achieve them than those who kept them to themselves and set themselves unattainable achievements. It’s logical isn’t it – set yourself a ridiculous feat and you are setting yourself up to fail! For example, knitting 100 sweaters in 10 days is totally impossible, where as knitting 10 sweaters in 100 days might be do-able (so long as they were knitted for babies) and telling all your friends that you are going to do it means that you have to face them with an explanation as to why at the end of a year you have only in fact knitted 1000 stitches, something which in turn should mean that you will crack on and knit like crazy!

There are lots of things I would like to do in 2012 and with all the new Rowan publications hot off the press there will definitely a lot of inspiration around for me to tap into when looking for things to push and inspire me, but as yet I have not decided what my resolutions will be. There are many things that I have lined up as ‘wishes’, rather than resolutions for the year, such as knitting a sock (just the one) and using Rowan’s new lace weight yarn, but I have to admit to being a little guarded about how loudly I will admit to making a definite resolution about something as terrifying as cutting back on my yarn hoarding! Please accept my apologies - but I am going to stick within my comfort zone and keep to the resolutions I make every year – eat less, drink less, exercise more, knit more, earn more & spend more – safe in the knowledge that none of the above will materialize and thus not affect my karma! If, unlike me, however, you would like to act on your resolution or discuss it with others then perhaps you would like to voice your NY resolution in your knitting group, on the Rowan International Forum, or perhaps write about it on your blog. Just be sure to say it to as many people as possible and loud enough so that everyone can hear it! Good Luck and Happy New Year!