Where did New Years Resolutions Come From? by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
Have you made any New Years Resolutions this year?
Are you going to get fitter, eat better, quit smoking, be more spiritual?
These are the top 10 New Years Resolutions from the Statistic Brain Research Institute that nearly all of us will fail to keep.
1: Lose Weight/Healthier Eating 21.4%
2: Life/Self Improvement 12.3%
3: Better Financial Decisions 8.5%
4. Quit Smoking 7.1%
5. Do more exciting things 6.3%
6. Spend more time with family and friends 6.3%
7. Work out more often 5.5%
8. Learn something new 5.3%
9. Do good deeds 5.2%
10. Fall in love 4.3%
At some time or another all of you would have made some New Years Resolutions. Many of us use this opportunity to self improve in some way. The New Year spreads out before us like a clean slate so we feel empowered to start a fresh. We are resolved to make some changes in our lives. Unfortunately only 8% of us will succeed in following through with those resolutions.
A resolution is a firm resolve to do or not to do something.
I have made my fair share of New Years Resolutions and every year I attend some kind of New Years Eve event with friends and family. Usually wondering when I can please go to bed and can we trick the kids and turn the clock forward. (I am showing my age).
Have you ever thought about where these customs originated? Do you realise that these customs of resolutions and celebrating a New Year are actually based on pagan rituals celebrating pagan Gods?
The ancient Babylonians were the ones first thought to observe New Years resolutions and celebrations over 4’000 years ago, although their new year began in March with the planting of the spring crops. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox. Thousands of years ago the new year was linked to agriculture, mythology and astronomical events.
“During a massive 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 objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favour on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be” (Source).
“In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the spring equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice. The first day of the Chinese New Year, meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice” (Source).
It was Julius Caesar changed the calendar to the Julian or Roman calendar which was used in some countries up until the early 1900’s. Consulting astronomers Caesar introduced a solar calendar based entirely on Earth’s revolutions around the Sun, also called a tropical year.
January is actually named after the Roman God ‘Janus’. Janus is the Roman god of gates and doorways, depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions. He is the Roman god of new beginnings and transitions. His festival month is January. Caesar decided that it would be appropriate for Janus to be made the first month of the calendar year as it symbolised the leaving behind of the old year and looking forward into the new year and the changes that it would bring.
It was John Wesley in 1740 who started the New Years Eve night watch services. I attended these for many years growing up in a Christian fundamental church community. John Wesley called them the ‘Covenant Renewal Service’, they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to the secular celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year.
I find it interesting that all of these practices are about survival. The celebration of feasts and food and spring planting. Resolutions of health, and fitness and wellbeing. Reaffirming relationships and community. Praying more or being more spiritual. All of these things are about staying alive and doing well. These customs have been common throughout millennia and all around the world in every nation. Humans are social creatures and they want to assure themselves of a good and flourishing future. This is a way that we can face a new year with hope and promise when in reality we have no control of what the year will bring and where we will be at the end of it.
It is good to reflect, it is good to be grateful, it is good to show justice and it is good to live in hope. If we use January the 1st as a time to pause and celebrate family and friends; if we take time to consider how we are conducting our lives then it is a good thing. However, maybe we should consider doing it more often than just once a year. Maybe we should consider reflection, transparency, good health, gratefulness, justice and hope to be a part of every day life. But now it is starting to look like a resolution. Lol…
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