Famous Writers: New Year's Day

Quotes About Resolutions, Fresh Starts, and the Annual Holiday

Boy and girl celebrating New Year's Eve
Blend Images - KidStock/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The New Year's holiday is all about reflecting on the year that's ending and planning for the year ahead. We gather with new and old friends alike, and make resolutions that may or may not last through January. One great way mankind has found to commemorate New Year's Eve is by writing about the annual holiday, producing quotes like the ones listed below.

As Sir Walter Scott puts it, "Each age has deemed the new-born year // The fittest time for festal cheer," so celebrate your New Year's by reading these quotes from famous authors like John Burroughs and Mark Twain, which explore everything from the time-honored tradition of making temporary resolutions to the importance of beginning each year — and indeed day — with a fresh outlook on life.

Like T.S. Eliot says in "Little Gidding": "For last year's words belong to last year's language / And next year's words await another voice. / And to make an end is to make a beginning."

Quotes About New Year's Resolutions

The most popular tradition of New Year's in the United States is that of making resolutions for the year ahead, promising oneself to eat fewer desserts or exercise regularly, only to break that promise a few months later as famously expressed by Helen Fielding in "Bridget Jones's Diary":

"I do think New Year's resolutions can't technically be expected to begin on New Year's Day, don't you? Since, because it's an extension of New Year's Eve, smokers are already on a smoking roll and cannot be expected to stop abruptly on the stroke of midnight with so much nicotine in the system. Also dieting on New Year's Day isn't a good idea as you can't eat rationally but really need to be free to consume whatever is necessary, moment by moment, in order to ease your hangover. I think it would be much more sensible if resolutions began generally on January the second."

Some, like Andre Gide, also address the idea of resolutions with humor: "But can one still make resolutions when one is over forty? I live according to twenty-year-old habits." Others like Ellen Goodman approach it with a quiet optimism for real change:

"We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential."

Mark Twain described these resolutions with an air of contempt multiple times throughout his writing and public speaking career. He once famously wrote, "New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions."

Another time, Twain wrote: "Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever."

Oscar Wilde, on the other hand, took the concept with a grain of salt and wrote about it with humor, "Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account."

Quotes About Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

Other writers believe in the tradition of New Year's Day being one for a fresh start or a clean slate — in writer's terms, a fresh piece of paper or a blank page — and as G.K. Chesterton puts it:

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective."

Other writers find the fresh start a little easier that Chesterton, like John Burroughs who once said "One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: To rise above the little things," or Benjamin Franklin who once wrote "Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."

Anaïn Nin takes it one step further, saying every day is a resolution: "I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me."

On the Passage of Time

Some writers focus directly on the idea of time passing in their musing on the traditions of celebrating the New Year's holiday. Charles Lamb once wrote, for instance, "Of all sounds of all bells... most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year."

Venetian writer Thomas Mann also appreciated the solemness of the passage of time and the meaninglessness of human's "bells and whistles" for celebrating the changing of one second to the next, which time cares nothing for:

"Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols."

Two Short Poems About New Year's Day

Edith Lovejoy Pierce poetically described the first of the year as such: "We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."

Edgar Guest and Thomas Hood, on the other hand, both wrote entire short poems dedicated to the passing of the old year into the new:

"A happy New Year! Grant that I
May bring no tear to any eye
When this New Year in time shall end
Let it be said I've played the friend,
Have lived and loved and labored here,
And made of it a happy year."
- Edgar Guest
"And ye, who have met with Adversity's blast,
And been bow'd to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass'd
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury—
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen."
- Thomas Hood
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Lombardi, Esther. "Famous Writers: New Year's Day." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/writers-say-about-new-years-740872. Lombardi, Esther. (2020, August 25). Famous Writers: New Year's Day. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-say-about-new-years-740872 Lombardi, Esther. "Famous Writers: New Year's Day." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-say-about-new-years-740872 (accessed March 23, 2023).