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When did my list for Santa Claus become New Year resolutions?

By Dinah Chong Watkins | China Daily | Updated: 2011-12-27 09:28

When did my list for Santa Claus become New Year resolutions?

As a kid, I had lots of toys on my wish list for Santa. But like many Chinese parents, they stuck to what they thought would be most beneficial to my development. Once, I received a Mickey Mouse bubblegum machine filled with red, white and blue gumballs. It required a penny to play it, thus teaching me early in life the meaning of the term "user-pay".

And even though I wanted it as badly as the next puppy-love-struck girl, my mother was not about to buy me the board game Mystery Date, because each time you'd open the little cardboard door, your mystery date turned out to be a white man.

But the toy that I wanted most, the one I looked for every year under the Christmas tree, was an Easy-Bake Oven, a working toy able to pump out miniature cakes and cookies with the eye-searing heat of a 100-watt incandescent light bulb.

I'd dog-ear the page of the toy catalog where the oven was advertised and spend hours picking out the candy colored pre-packaged cake mixes and baking accessories that sought to pry apart a parent's wallet even further. I'd dream that - like the girls in the TV commercial - I'd proudly present the professionally decorated cakes to my family, and they would gleefully applaud my budding husband-catching skills (please note this was the 1970s).

I never did, though, find that Easy-Bake Oven under the tree. But maybe it was for the better because like an innocent romance that never goes beyond the first kiss, I'm left with only the idealized version of what might have been. And I'm still at liberty to conjure up effortless, pain-free fantasies that don't include undercooked cakes, burnt fingers or broken hearts.

Now that I'm an adult, I don't make up wish lists for Santa. No, I tell him quite clearly what I want: "I want you to put the toilet seat down", "Just stop and ask for directions", "I want to take a real holiday; sleeping on Aunt Ada's sofa is no vacation".

But I do continue to make an annual Christmas list, only now I call it my New Year's Resolutions. What is it about the yearend that causes us to look inward? Maybe the tradition started in the northernmost countries where the freezing winter temperatures kept people indoors for long stretches at a time. Boxed in and bored, they reflected on ways to make the new year better.

My many resolutions involving exercise have given me a closetful of pristine workout clothes that preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall. When they come up with a fitness routine that doesn't require sweating, burning muscles or gasping for air like a hungry carp, sign me up. I have vowed to eat healthier, incorporating more organics into my diet. But with the authenticity of local producers' methods in question, I can guarantee a healthier diet by cutting down my weekly intake of half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts to just three or maybe four.

There are other resolutions I have like trying to be a nicer person, but like the Easy-Bake Oven, it's all so much easier to dream about an idealized version than taking the hard steps into making it a reality.

So are New Year resolutions better left undone? In 2012, I see myself sprinting through the Beijing Great Wall marathon in record time, waking up every morning with a raw wheatgrass-kale-spirulina smoothie and playing under rainbow-streaked cornfields with not-yet-housebroken toddlers and puppies. On second thought, I think I'll stick to my good old 2011 model.

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