Our New Year’s resolutions actually go back to ancient times, and doesn’t have a single historical origin.
Let’s explore the history behind this tradition popular still today!
Already in 2000 B.C., the Babylonians celebrated the New Year during a 12-day festival called Akitu, starting with the vernal equinox.
This was the start of the farming season to plant crops, crown their king, and also make promises to pay their debits.
One common resolution, was the returning of borrowed farm equipment, which makes sense for an agriculturally based society. Living in a more trade-based economy, this was a good moment to reset. If you kept your promise (New Year’s Resolution) to the gods, it was said that good fortune would fall upon you.
The Babylonian New Year was then adopted by the ancient Romans, including the tradition of resolutions.
The timing, however, eventually shifted with the Julian calendar in 46 B.C., which declared January 1st as the start of the new year. Without communication technology, people across the Roman Empire didn’t know what day it was, and this made it difficult to plan events and really anything at all. The further and further one got from the center of a city, the less likely they would know what day it was. Julius Caesar established January 1st as the beginning of the year also to solve this problem.
As we already know, January was named for the two-faced Roman god Janus, who looks forward for new beginnings as well as backward for reflection (and resolution).
The Romans would offer sacrifices to Janus and make promises of good behavior for the year ahead.
Janus was also the guardian of gates and doors, the character who presided over the temple of peace, where the doors were opened only during wartime. It was a place of safety, where new beginnings (and new resolutions) could be forged.
New Year’s resolutions were also made in the Middle Ages, when Medieval knights would renew their vow to chivalry by placing their hands on a peacock. The annual “Peacock Vow” would take place at the end of the year, as a resolution to maintain their knightly values.
As a result, by the 17th century, New Year’s resolutions were so common that folks found humor in the idea of making and breaking their pledges.
In the United States, New Year’s resolutions are still a tradition, but the type of resolutions have changed.
As a legacy of Protestant history, resolutions in the early 1900s were more religious or spiritual in nature, reflecting a desire to develop stronger moral character, a stronger work ethic, and more restraint in the face of earthly pleasures.
Over the years, however, resolutions seem to have migrated from denying physical indulgences to general self-improvement (like losing weight).
Superficial, of course, but today’s resolutions are also a reflection of status, financial wealth, responsibility, and self-discipline—which isn’t that different from how the New Year’s resolution tradition began.
Also bbout United States, the ball drops in Times Square for the first time in 1907, millions of people watch it every year and many use this moment to mark the beginning of their New Year’s Resolution.
But why a ball and what is the meaning behind it?
This tradition actually comes from ancient sailing. Sailors needed to know what time it was but their timekeeping methods aboard the ships were primitive. To solve this problem, there would be a giant ball at the port that could be seen from sea, that would drop at the same time every day, usually 1pm, to help sailors reset their understanding of time.
In any case, a “resolution” is a firm decision to do or not to do something, and it’s often about finding a solution to a problem.
If the word “resolution” makes you feel badly, you can simply call it an “intention.” Or, how about calling it a “recognition” of what really makes you happy and set smaller goals towards getting back to what makes you happy…in a small way?
In fact, a resolution is not about magical, sweeping change, but It’s mainly a time to reflect on your behavior, both what you’ve achieved and how you can continue to make efforts in what supposed to be your right direction.
And more people succeed at New Year’s resolutions than you might think!
However, If you’re not fond of resolutions, how about taking a piece of paper and listing a few regrets about the past year?
To help focus on the future, write down your regrets on a scrap of paper and toss it into the fire. Also Janus, the two-faced symbol of the new year, would approve it!
And, whether we resolve to return borrowed farm equipment as the Babylonians did, or drop a few kilos, we’re tapping into an ancient and powerful longing for a new start by setting resolutions…
Images from web – Google Research