Today, I offer a very short history of New Year’s Resolutions.
Some people write resolutions. Some don’t. Some like the idea of setting down goals for the New Year, and others feel doomed to failure before they start. Comediennes joke that a list of resolutions is a list of things you’ll never do.
Whatever you may think about New Year’s Resolutions, you probably wonder who started the tradition. Actually, there’s little history to explain an almost universal ritual. We do know that New Year’s is the oldest celebrated holiday. It dates back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians who feasted and otherwise celebrated for 11 straight days.
When In Rome...
Just about all of the history on New Year Resolutions attribute the practice to the Romans though. Supposedly, in 153 BC, they placed an image of Janus, the god of beginnings and the guard of doorways or entrances, at the head of the calendar. Yes, that’s why the first month of the Julian calendar is called January.
Janus was a two-faced god who could look back on the past events and forward to the future all at the same time so he became the symbol for the new year. Romans celebrated Janus and looked for forgiveness from their enemies of the past and looked forward to the future by exchanging gifts before the beginning of each new year, and, one supposes, made resolutions for new beginnings.
When Does New Year Begin?
Of course, two thousand years ago, the New Year didn’t begin on January 1. Even in our modern world, not every country marks January 1 as the first day of the new year. In 46 B.C., January 1 became the beginning of the New Year because Julius Caesar developed a calendar that more accurately reflected the seasons than previous calendars had.
As you probably can guess, the most popular resolutions in the western world are: stop smoking, stop excessive drinking of alcohol, lose weight, save more money, and get physically fit. In a recent study on resolutions, more than 50% of the participants were confident they could achieve their goals. However, only 12% actually achieved success.
Interestingly enough, men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, a system of small measurable goals i.e. lose a pound a week, rather than just writing a resolution to lose weight. This didn’t work for women, but women succeeded 10% more often when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.
Whether you’re for or against the practice of writing resolutions at the beginning of the year, I encourage you to set goals. I always think of goals as a road map. Without a map, you’ll travel a road, but who knows where it may go.
Happy New Year!
(Also published as New Year Resolutions Are Universal on Joan Slings Words, my other blog.)