New Year’s Resolutions: A Tradition

By : Damien Knight

Before I list my New Year’s resolutions for this year, I want to give you this post. Another one of my holiday histories.

New Year’s resolutions are nearly as old as New Year itself. It dates back to almost 4000 years back to the kingdom of Babylon. Babylonian New Year was celebrated during the feast time Akitu. It was during Akitu new kings would be crowned or oaths to old kings were sworn. They also would swear oaths to their gods. These oaths often included promises to pay debts.

In Rome New Year were first celebrated in March the month of the War god Mars. During this time Roman Magistrates were sworn ins. Term dates were set by New Year. As Rome became more militant such late swear in date was unsuitable. The date was moved to January. Represented by the god Janus January fit because wars were fought in spring and swearing ceremonies would already be done.

During this time citizens swore loyalty to their Emperor. During times of peace the month January was even more appropriate as the god Janus was the two-faced god of hearth and family. He was a god that looked forward to the future and back at the past. It became a tradition to reflect, make promises of good conduct, and sacrifices to their gods.

While there are no direct lines to modern traditions from Rome resolutions continued to be a religious practice. For early Christians it was a time of atonement. By 1740 John Wesley, a Methodist clergyman, set up the Covenant Renewal Services. During this time they reflected on the year and renewed their vows to God.

The practice of making promises on New Year appears to be falling out of favour in modern society Approximately 45% Americans make New Year’s resolutions.  Most resolutions made today are secular and often geared toward self-improvement and weight loss. Even though many Americans are no longer making resolutions it isn’t a tradition dying out any time soon.


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