The Ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to create New Year’s Resolutions. Their New Year started not in January but in March when the crops were planted. The Babylonians held a 12-day religious festival called Akitu in which they reaffirmed their loyalty to the current king and made promises to the gods to repay debts or return objects borrowed. These are considered the earliest resolutions. If the promises were kept, it was believed that the gods would bestow favor on the person for the coming year, and if the promise was not kept then they would lose the favor of the gods.
The ancient Romans, after Julius Caesar in circa 46 BC, made January 1st the start of the new year and named it after Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorway and arches. Janus was believed to symbolically have looked both toward the future and the previous year. The Romans made sacrifices and promises of good conduct to Janus.
Early Christians established January 1st as the traditional occasion to thinking about one’s past mistakes with the promise to do better in the new year. In 1740, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant of Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, to sing hymns and read Scriptures. This time of year is now more commonly used to make resolutions for the coming year.
Despite the religious roots, the New Year’s Resolutions of today are primarily secular. Instead of making promises to the gods, we make resolutions to ourselves and focus primarily on self-improvement. Approximately 45% of us make a resolution but only approximately 8% of us follow through with them. These statistics will likely not counteract 4000 years of New Year’s Resolutions making but might make us feel better if we are in the 92% who can’t keep our resolutions.
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Excerpted from an article by Sarah Pruitt