The History of New Year’s Resolutions May Very Well Have an Impact on your Future.
As we prepare to welcome 2017 many people take time to consider New Year’s resolutions. Resolving to make changes and improvements has almost become an unavoidable part of our transition into the new year—despite the well documented fact that most of them fail.
By examining the history and origins of these resolutions, let’s see what insights we can glean from our ancestors that might make our efforts this year more successful.
[Modified excerpt from the History website]
Ancient Babylonians were likely the first people to make New Year’s resolutions roughly 4000 years ago. They were also the first to hold celebrations which marked the coming of the New Year (though not in January, but at the beginning of planting season in March). During a 12-day religious festival, known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any borrowed objects. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians adhered to their ‘resolutions’, their gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to find themselves.
A similar practice occurred in ancient Rome, after the emperor Julius Caesar altered the calendar and established January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 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 backwards 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 and be 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 known as watch night services, they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year.
Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Instead of making promises to your God, most people make these promises only to themselves. Today’s resolutions typically focus purely on one’s self, fall into some sort of self-improvement category and are accountable to no one—which likely is the reason for our collective, dismal success rate.
I’m not adverse to self improvement efforts, but I think if we are only accountable to ourselves, and focus solely on ourselves, maybe we are missing the point. Perhaps we would be more successful if we shifted our goals, vowed to be kinder and more accountable to each other, and sought to honor our God—not just ourselves.
I encourage you to try something new this year. Make resolutions in community with one another—a training partner, spouse, colleague, children, neighbors, etc. The rewards you begin to see and feel together will likely help you stay the course far longer and actually enrich your life—which should be the ultimate goal.