New Year's Resolutions
Ahhhhhh the infamous New Year and all the positive vibes of the resolutions we make for our year ahead. Did you make any? We all talk about them, but where did this tradition start?
The custom of making New Year’s resolutions has been around for thousands of years, but it hasn’t always looked the way it does today.
The ancient Babylonians, 4,000 years in our past, are believed to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions (though their New Year was celebrated in mid-March when the crops were planted). During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises mark the beginnings of our New Year’s resolutions that we practice today. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their pagan gods would bestow favor upon them for the year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor which is a place no one wanted to be.
A similar practice occurred in ancient Rome after Julius Caesar worked on the calendar and established January 1 as the beginning of the new year (in 46 B.C.). Named for Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches, January had special significance for the Romans. Believing that Janus symbolically looked backward into the previous year and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year.
For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Also known as watch night services, this included readings from Scriptures and singing of hymns. Now popular within evangelical Protestant churches, especially African-American denominations and congregations, watch night services held on New Year’s Eve are often spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year.
Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly a non-religious practice. Instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves and focus mostly on self-improvement. This is why our present-day resolutions typically tend to be so hard to follow through with. According to recent research, as many as 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, yet only 8% are successful in making their resolutions a reality.
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*Article information contributed by the History Channel