It was the custom in Biblical times in the Hebrew religion to wear a hairshirt (sackcloth) and ashes as a sign of repentance and atonement. Such garments or adornments have been worn at various times in the history of the Christian faith, to mortify the flesh or as penance for adorning oneself. Being made of rough cloth, generally woven from goats' hair, and worn close to the skin, they would feel very itchy.
Okay, full disclosure: my in-laws "don the hairshirt" each January 1. In other words, they eat sparingly, forego the booze, and get thee to a gym. They do this not exactly because they have "adorned themselves," but because they've been living it up big time for the past month.
They are, of course, not alone. Many of us slurp, sup, and succumb to high-calorie delicacies from late November through New Year's as if there might not be any consequence at all: buerre blanc with capers, piles of warm, fresh-from-the-fat-vat donuts, rib roasts, turkeys and their greasy, sausage-y dressings, yams smothered in butter and brown sugar, mousses, parfaits, and meringues. And then January 1 rolls around, and we wonder who pulled a dirty trick and shrunk all our clothes.
When I first met my in-laws, I found it both amusing and enviable how they could forego all the worthwhile comestibles for an entire month. I knew I couldn't do it, so I didn't even bother trying. Okay, once I tried, and I think I lasted ten days.
This year I'm at it again. Because I don't think seafood and sausage gumbo, pizza, and Chinese take-out are diet foods (no apologies; I was stuck in airports all day), I donned my nasty garment o steel wool around 24 hours ago.
Today I ate:
for breakfast: hard-tack toast (no butter);
for lunch: a tuna salad sandwich made with canola mayonnaise;
as a snack: a tiny bit of brown rice sushi and a handful of unsalted nuts;
and, for dinner: a small serving of pasta with white beans, kale, yams, and a tiny bit of sausage (okay, I know, sausage probably isn't okay on this austerity plan, but without it this stew has no flavor).
My drink all day and with dinner: water.
Also, as part of this self-torture, I went out and sprinted for twenty minutes in the freezing cold.
At the moment the dreaded hairshirt feels worse than mohair, but soon I will emerge phoenix-like from the ashes, my clothes veritably loosened, my body revved up to take on 2011 with great gusto and glitzy-glitz.
But hey, don't be surprised if I don't make it past Jan 15.