Five years ago during Christmas, our daughter Alex shared her upcoming new-year endeavor : “Dryuary.” I had never heard the word before but understood it instantly – dry January. Alex, a vegetarian and daily exerciser, proceeded to converse with me and her mother, Denise, about the wisdom of bodily and mental detox after December’s season of excesses. It made an impression. A year later, Denise and I jumped on the Dryuary bandwagon and we thanked Alex for role-modeling the idea. Alex yet practices Dryuary as do other family members. This year will mark Denise’s and my fourth year to do Dryuary together.
As 2020 wound down, I especially looked forward to Dryuary’s hiatus on alcohol. Denise and I have wine with most dinners . . . but with Covid-induced staying at home and fewer evening meetings on my schedule, I’ve consumed more wine with dinners – and afterwards – than in previous years. Dryuary not only gives a mild cleanse to one’s psychological and physical states, but also a chance to reset them.
I’m in resetting mode and, to boot, there are good historical reasons that make the case for Dryuary and its invitation to reclaim the wisdom of moderation.
The winter solstice, December 21 – the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere – has a deep cultural history related to the rhythms of year-end harvest. For millennia, the period preceding and following the solstice (what we moderns call October, November, December, and January) has been the time of gathering in harvests, slaughtering for fresh meat, and enjoying the products of fermentation, beer and wine. December was and is the time for excess – eating, drinking, celebrating, leisure – a time to enjoy labor’s rewards at year’s end.
Our modern-day December holiday season with gifts and the exaltation of consumerism, rich food and libations, and celebrations simply follows suit. Santa Claus, with his round belly and deep laugh, is the iconic representative of our modern season of excesses. (For those wondering about how December’s religious aspect – namely, the baby Jesus – fits into this topic, I cover that here.)
Have you ever put on a few pounds during the winter holidays? Have you ever signed up for a gym membership in January? If so, you’ve experienced the natural rhythms of this time of the year. There’s nothing wrong with occasional excesses. The hundreds of seeds produced by my garden’s basil and cilantro plants when they flower – in anticipation of next season’s reproduction – is a prime example of the goodness of excess.
When excess, however, becomes a way of life – addiction being excess’s most devious manifestation – problems multiply for individuals so afflicted and for the society in which they live. Eating, drinking, consumerism – all necessary parts of the human enterprise – are best done in general and overall moderation. This is the basic theme and message of my first book, Just a Little Bit More.
As we age, we slow down and our habits – both the good and bad ones – become more engrained. Youth’s ability to shrug off mistakes and pivot to new possibilities has diminished. Hopefully, for those of us in the aging mode, the wisdom of the years has accumulated and produced effective strategies for dealing with the vagaries of life. As we’ve heard it said: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
I have, God willing, good plans for 2021: multiple house projects, recovering my dormant golf game, writing another book, continuing the meaningful social ministry work I’m able to do with fantastic partners, and – along with everyone else – I look forward to the end of the pandemic. Dryuary helps me get a head start on these good ambitions where needed.
Even though Twitter is awash with Dryuary bashing – “I made it 8 hours into this year’s #Dryuary before a bottle of reserve Rioja was calling my name . . . ” – I’m not persuaded otherwise. The pendulum has swung away from December into blessed Dryuary. I raise my glass of iced hibiscus tea with fresh mint to the new year!
T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Austin City Lutherans (ACL), the social ministry expression of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019). Readers describe it as “compelling,” “inspiring,” and “well written.”
I’m also the author of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good (ACTA-Chicago, 2014), which traces the history of economic inequality in American society. Reviewing Just a Little Bit More, journalist Sam Pizzigati says, “Anderson, above all, writes with a purpose. He’s hoping to help Americans understand that an egalitarian ideal helped create the United States. We need that ideal, Anderson helps us see, now more than ever.”