Dry January

The Long Hand of Max Weber?

A few words on Dry January, the movement to encourage abstinence from alcohol in January. I don’t practice it, personally. Sometimes I go for periods during the year without booze, and seem to manage fine. I don’t see the need to designate January for this.

I am all for it, for those who wish to do it. Anyone with a in-depth interest in alcohol has to be mindful (especially) not to overdo it. I feel I always have, or at least in my way I have. Getting older helps, simply because for many of us a built-in limitation kicks in.

A pint of beer is fine these days, two occasionally, but never more. It is just too much to digest beyond that. Somewhat in tune with this, in 2021 Dry January seems led by craft beer devotees, and no doubt their counterparts in wine and food generally.*

There is a good irony in that 30 years ago when lawyering on Bay Street in Toronto, I noticed that skipping alcohol in January was the not infrequent practice of an upper echelon.

I cannot recall any popular movement then to ape that custom. There was no advice in newspapers or other media to stow away the booze for dark January.

The elite did it to counter the Holiday over-indulgence, probably a facet of the old Protestant ethic still extant then. It was a counter also to the freewheeling, postwar martini culture, itself a reaction to Prohibition rectitude. (The cycle goes on forever).

I remember at the time some called it the “white month”, apparently after a Scandinavian term for a period on the wagon.

Forsaking booze for January showed where your priorities lay, finally. Over the years, the upper class habit percolated down to hipster circles, as not a few other fashions in food, wine, travel, and clothes. Parental influence undoubtedly played a big part in this.

Many keynote figures associated with wine and gastronomy have lived into their 90s. Some were lucky, some reached that exalted stage through lifestyle management.

That a drinking culture inherently harbors the spirit of abandon cannot be denied, but the less is more ethic proves its worth to many involved in the field.

You can have your pastry stout and drink it too, if you manage it right.

N.B. First link in text is to Wikipedia’s entry “The Protestant Ethic and Capitalism”. The second is to a recent article in Hop Culture.

*I elaborate in the Comments.


4 thoughts on “Dry January”

  1. There is one blogger I follow who does it, and her reasons are pretty reasonable — she’s no puritan, but she finds it’s a good way to center herself for the rest of the year after a month of excess, lose a bit of weight, and save a little money.

    What I find odd are the commenters who seem to go out of their way to nitpick what she fully acknowledges is not strictly rational, as if her break is somehow an assault on them.

    I try to walk 10,000 steps a day. Not because there is any magic to that number, instead of 9,321 steps or 12,116, but because it’s a nice simple marker that I’ve gotten out of my seat for the day. I think done right, Dryuary can serve a similar purpose as looking at my smart watch at 4 PM and seeing my step count — it’s an easy way to make a rough evaluation of where things stand, rather than some harsh moral dictata.

    • No arguments there. Everyone should do what makes them feel comfortable. My point was simply that supporting in some way the abstention has an older history, one I personally recall was associated with an upper echelon business culture. Ostensibly the two worlds – boomer suits versus cool contemporary craft – are opposites, but as often happens, they are alike in many ways.

      • I think it’s a good comparison to draw between the striving of both types toward a certain well-tempered quality. Like Bach’s tuning, things were never perfectly calibrated in every single moment, instead you gave up a bit in one place to gain something in another. It’s an approach toward life that isn’t what you see everywhere, and I think it’s something Weber described as part of the Protestant Ethic that drove capitalism, with a notion of saving to fund postponed spending in a deliberate and planned manner.

  2. To clarify if I should, by “craft beer devotees” I mean writers and others on social media who aren’t brewers. I don’t expect most brewers to push Dry January. Why should they?

    Also, when I say most such devotees support Dry January, I include those soft on the position. Put it this way: it’s cool these days to support/not oppose it, much less cool to be strident against it.

    This has mimicked the position of the haute bourgeoisie of a generation ago. By my canvass.


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