Should February be the month for good resolutions?

A maverick friend of ours is getting into the swing of his New Year's resolutions just when everybody else is fading fast and mumbling: "Wait until next year."

Our friend treats the first of February as his New Year's Day, and that, he says only a little smugly, is the whole secret. During the first week of February, he reports, the traffic is wonderfully light on that highway paved with good intentions. A man can shape himself up in comparative privacy, without the usual January feeling of being just another member of an overflow class in leotards at a sort of moral-health salon.

Our February resolver contends that even the climate is favorable. Days are giving light longer, routing those 5 p.m. forces of darkness, and the sun at high noon is actually beginning to look kindly. A fine puritan nip is still in the air to keep your deservedly troubled conscience alert. But one is not surrounded by winter, like a medieval city under siege, as one is in January, with December behind and February ahead.

February, after all, is the last full month of winter -- and what a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel comfort lies in that thought!

Furthermore, February starts without the post-holiday letdown that handicaps January, our friend points out. By the twelfth day of Christmas, he claims, good resolutions lack the strength to fly like partridges from a pear tree. Those who believe wassail is the proper prelude to good resolutions are as naive , he scoffs, as dieters who think the way to start is to down a six- course meal first.

No wonder January's resolver tends to operate from extreme positions -- desperation or wild overconfidence. February, our friend asserts, is a month not given to such excesses. February is a reasonable month. To prove his point , he will name all the pragmatists born in February, beginning with scientists and inventors: Galileo and Copernicus, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaper, Chester Carlson, inventor of xerography, Hudson Maxim, inventor of high explosives.

Well, never mind old Hudson, our friend says. But we do get the point, don't we? February is the month when hope and discipline are destined to combine.

If he is pushed for more arguments, our friend will show off his scholarship by explaining that the Latin root for February means "purification" or "expiation" -- the very stuff good resolutions are made of.

Our friend's final case for February as good-resolutions month goes back even further into ancient history. All the most successful rituals, he remarks, are in harmony with the seasons. Generally they coincide with events in the life of the farmer. The farmer who makes good resolutions during February is in training for the planting season. The farmer who makes good resolutions in January is only going to apply any new virtues to shoveling snow in February -- a necessary but negative task.

What can be done about making January the last month of the year instead of the first? President Carter, our friend notes, is a farmer, and, if he hurries, he might well be the man to proclaim that the New Year, and, in fact, the New Decade, has just begun with February.

Certainly January, 1980, wasn't anything that will be missed.

Our friend would like to suggest further to Mr. Carter that the Oxford Etymological Dictionary gives "pacification" as an alternative root-meaning for February. Good resolutions are a secular form of prayer, our friend insists, and they should be officially encouraged. A twelfth of the year, he submits, is none too long to devote to "purification" and "pacification."

February doesn't come a month too soon, our friend warns, for it is followed by the month named after the god of war, Mars. For now our friend is concentrating on getting rid of January, and he does not expect Mr. Carter to do anything drastic, like boycott March. At least, not yet.

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