On ‘Tradition’.

Now that we’ve hit the end of the first week in January, life somewhat seems like it’s getting back to normal. That ridiculous and wonderful period of six weeks or so where the entire world seems to stop doing… life, in order to have a party of mixed enjoyments is over.


I for one, couldn’t be happier.


Now don’t get me wrong at all; I love Christmas time. I love the whole December period. Whether you say ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Happy Holidays’ (which, given that we take time off for both Christmas and New Year is actually a more appropriate greeting, if based purely on grammar) or celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Saturnalia, I think the entire period is wonderful. People become less solemn about things, which is only ever a good thing and the whole ‘goodwill to all’ thing actually does seem to have some effect, if only in a slight, but measurable way.


That said, I work in a professional theatre and we’re currently enjoying/enduring our sixth straight week of pantomime. Many people will attend a pantomime performance at some point during the festive period and will almost certainly enjoy it. The jokes are that nice combination of culturally relevant and so old your grandpa would groan as well as family friendly and just that little bit naughty. They work.


Once, maybe twice. Twice a day for six weeks is another matter.


Still, pantomime is a theatrical tradition. It’s a cultural tradition. It’s a tradition of many families to go and see a specific one. It’s an event, repeated on an annual cycle, planned on purpose.


The words ‘planned’ and ‘on purpose’ are important in reference to this concept. Often, when you reach your late twenties, you will have started repeating certain acts on a regular or frequent basis. For example, over the New Year, my young wife and I played host to one of our ‘couple friends’; an old school friend of mine and his child bride. The four of us, when we get together, tend to repeat certain actions and events time and time again.


To whit; we drink more than is medically advised (usually by a factor of 7-8 times), stay up til six in the morning and consequently at least one of us will spend the next day wailing for death to take them while their head becomes reacquainted with the toilet bowl. We also have toasted bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.


Only one of those is a tradition. We actually plan the breakfast. Though mostly, only three of us at most will ever follow through with it. The rest is just habit, and habit is what ruins lives.


Sure, it can provide comfort and save time all at the same time. Having a cup of coffee every morning while showering for three minutes too long can make all the difference between my feeling like a zombie and ready, willing and able to out-run, out-fight and out-think a whole army of zombies. Of course, it also makes me three minutes late while rushing for the underground to work, which then makes me sweat just a little more than is comfortable on the underground and I end up never feeling quite as crisp or as fresh as I’d like before taking on the pantomime-visiting zombie army that then shows up on the doorstep.


No. Tradition can be a wonderful thing. Habit very rarely is. Habit is why you reach for that second glass of wine in the evening that will just go straight to your hips and then to your head the next morning. Habit is why you really miss that cigarette that you usually have that same sort of time, when you feel in that mood, the way you do. Habit is why you stop on the way home and get a takeaway that you know you’re only capable of eating half of and you’ll throw the rest of away, wasting four quid each night that could be put towards a holiday instead of filling your bin.


Tradition is a sophisticated and tasty breakfast. Habit is a vomit-inducing hangover.


The wife and I have a habit. When one of us says “D’ya want a glass of wine?” the other says “Yes”. When that’s finished, it’s ‘”Fancy just one more glass?” and the answer is never “No”. Which has led to far too few holidays and far too many vomit-inducing hangovers in the past year.


So, the habit, the villain of this piece, is about to meet its match in the form of heroic tradition. I’m never one to usually indulge in a ‘New Year’s Resolution’. I’ve always found the concept somewhat twee and vacuous.  Resolutions are something of a joke these days. Always given up after a few weeks, if that. I’ve seen the results of these sorts of things with my own eyes, every year. Every January 2, my gym floods with…. ‘that guy’. You know the one; the one who’s somehow equal parts skinny and chubby at the same time. The guy who says “I don’t want to get big, I just want to get lean.” I hate that guy. Fortunately, the herd has thinned out by St. Valentine’s Day and after that, things are back to normal. That’s my concept of a New Year’s Resolution; a joke that lasts six weeks, annoys me and eventually disappears, only to rear its ugly head again next year. Like panto.


I’ve always been of the opinion that you shouldn’t be waiting for an arbitrary day of the year to start making the changes you want to make. But, as I’ve discussed before, change is hard to make happen. Taking the leap is easy enough, but sticking the landing is pretty rare. So I decided to take all the help we could get and abandon drink until the end of April in order to restore our livers to full working order. The first of January is an easy place to start from and makes the measuring stick nice and easy to keep track of. It’s working so far, too. We just had our first dry Friday night in longer than I care to remember. It felt good.


What do we hope to gain by this? Well, health for one. By 27, if you’re a normal sort of Britonner, you’ve probably been drinking for about a decade. Depending on your circumstance, what with flat parties, university and pay-day nights out, that could easily be ten years of habitual heavy drinking. That’s the sort of thing that catches up with you later in life, when your body doesn’t have the ability to bounce back the way (you hope) it still has. Plus, the money. Stop for a moment and think how much you spend on bottles of wine and nights out, each month, then do a quick calculation of how much money you could save in four months?


I’m aware that this almost sounds like sensible and ‘grown up’ behaviour.


Well, I’m 27 now. It’s probably about time. Also, I really want a holiday. Six weeks of panto has damn near killed me.


The wife and I are thinking Rome. It’s traditional for us.


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