Friday, January 1, 2021
Usually, when someone makes a New Year’s Resolution, they promise to lose weight or to break bad habits.
Since today is New Year’s Day 2021, I decided to post this tonight.
Man, 2020 was a doozy. I don’t know what this year will hold, but for some reason, I feel that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Maybe I am happy that the past year is finally over, but we still have a tough road ahead of us, particularly in terms of this pandemic. With that said, let’s get down to business and resume this Famous Sayings series.
What Is a New Year’s Resolution?
A New Year’s Resolution is a promise that someone makes to themselves upon the New Year. That person may resolve to give up bad habits, start some good ones, get to work on projects they had long neglected, or do anything they think they need to do to improve their lives.
When Was the Term ‘New Year’s Resolution’ Coined?
The term “resolution” in connection with the New Year may be traced back to Walker’s Hibernian Magazine (“What is the history”). The magazine, which was called The Hibernian Magazine or Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge for its first 14 years of circulation, was published monthly in Dublin, Ireland from February 1771 to July 1812 (“Walker’s Hibernian Magazine”). Around each New Year, the magazine implored its readers to make resolutions while suggesting the types of promises different people could make, sometimes based on their profession.
Now, the term “New Year’s resolution” may have first been in print in 1813. That year, a Boston newspaper urged its readers to lead less sinful lives, especially after holiday festivities (“What is the history”).
What Is the History Behind New Year’s Resolutions?
New Year’s resolutions, which are mostly religious in nature, may have had their start in Ancient Babylon, over 4,000 years ago. That tradition was eventually adopted and adapted by Ancient Rome and carried over to subsequent eras.
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions can be traced back to Babylon circa 2000 B.C. (“What is the history”). Ancient Babylonians would celebrate Akitu to mark the new year (then it was mid-March). During this festival, Babylonians would crown a new king or honor the current one (Pruitt). Ancient Babylonians would also make promises to their gods to return things that they borrowed (likely farm equipment) and to pay off debts (History.com Editors). Babylonians had more incentive to keep their promises because doing so meant that their gods would bless them for the rest of the year; the failure to honor these promises would cause people to fall out of these gods’ favor (Holloway).
Romans also offered resolutions of good conduct for the start of the year, but to one god, Janus. This tradition may have been tied to the change in the Roman calendar during Cesar’s. As discussed in my post about Leap Year, after the Year of Confusion in 46 B.C., Cesar reset the calendar so that most years would last 365, but every fourth year would last 366 days. Cesar also established January 1 as the start of the new year. January seemed like the natural place to move the new year since Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, had two faces, one that looked back into the past year and one that looked into the new year (Holloway).
Early Christians adopted the practice of making resolutions, as well. Christianity became the official Roman religion in the 4th Century A.D., but emperors would hold raucous New Year’s celebrations. To counter this, Christians would hold the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (Petro). On the first day of the new year, these worshippers would take the time to reflect on their past mistakes and resolve to make better decisions for the rest of the year (Holloway).
Centuries later, Christians would make these resolutions are often made during watch night services. The first watch night services began with the Methodists in the 18th century. Under John Wesley, worshippers participated in a special New Year’s service called the Covenant Renewal. During this service, congregants would pray, since hymns, and reaffirm their commitment to God and to each other (“What is the history”).
Judaism also has a tradition for making New Year’s resolutions, but it pertains to the Hebrew calendar. Beginning with Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, worshippers reflect on their wrongdoings over the year while seeking and offering forgiveness (Holloway).
The Medieval era had a mixture of religious and secular New Year’s traditions, although most were muted until the late part of the era. During that time, the clergy would ask worshippers to reflect on their past year and resolve to live less sinful lives (“What is the history”). Also, knights took the peacock vow (Les Voeux du Paon) at the end of each year to re-affirm their chivalry (Holloway).
During the Victorian Era, New Year’s resolutions began to serve more of a secular purpose, particularly among upper-class individuals. These folks made resolutions that resemble common resolutions made in the West, like losing weight and improving one’s appearance all-around. This trend continued into the late 19th century (“What is the history”).
Depending on the country or culture, the nature of the resolution may follow a general pattern. For example, in the United States and in Egypt, it is common for people to make resolutions to lose weight. In Russia, people may wish for academic success for their children. In Australia and Japan, people tend to focus more on finding love or a soulmate. In India, people tend to wish for prosperity. In other cultures, people resolve to make better financial decisions (“What of the history”).
Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions?
That is a good question.
Usually, people never stick to their New Year’s Resolutions, often giving up in the first week of the new year. According to Statistic Brain (paywalled), between 38% and 45% of Americans regularly make these yearly promises to themselves, but only 8% follow through. It stands to reason that it is hard to keep a New Year’s resolution when it is entirely voluntary, and no one is really going to hold those who make these promises accountable.
So, why do we make New Year’s resolutions, especially when there isn’t really any external pressure to make them or stick to them? Maybe it stems from a need to keep things fresh and to evolve with the changing years. Yet ultimately, when we make these resolutions, we recognize things that we can improve about ourselves.
And How Can We Stick to Our New Year’s Resolutions?
Well, it might be as simple as making a goal that is not too big and raising the stakes. In a post for Hubspot, Amanda Zantal-Wiener wrote that most resolutions fail because they are too vague, and the stakes aren’t hard enough. One solution is to set micro-goals throughout the year; do what we know we can do and make a plan to do it. To raise the stakes, think about what we might lose if we don’t achieve our goals. Zantal-Wiener’s post suggested giving up money, but I don’t know if most people would want to do that.
Have You Made a New Year’s Resolution?
I try not to make these myself, but I know what I want to accomplish this year. However, I do need someone in particular to hold me accountable. I find that it is best to work with a partner for specific goals, but some things I need to do on my own.
Feel free to talk about your resolutions or goals in the comment section and I hope that this year is better than the last.
History.com Editors. “New Year’s.” History.com, A&E Networks, 16 February 2010, Last Updated 21 December 2020, https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/new-years. Accessed 1 January 2021.
Holloway, April. “Ancient History of New Year’s Resolutions.” Ancient Origins, Updated 1 January 2014, https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-news-general/ancient-history-new-year-s-resolutions-001185. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
Petro, Bill. “History of New Year’s Day: Why on January 1?” BillPetro.com, 31 December 2020, https://billpetro.com/history-of-new-years-resolutions. Accessed 1 January 2021.
Pruitt, Sarah. “The History of New Year’s Resolutions.” History.com, A&E Networks, 30 December 2015, Last Updated 21 December 2020, https://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-new-years-resolutions. Accessed 1 January 2021.
Various Authors. “New Year’s resolution.” Wikipedia, Last Updated 1 January 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Year%27s_resolution.
Various Authors. “Walker’s Hibernian Magazine.” Wikipedia, Last Updated 14 October 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walker%27s_Hibernian_Magazine. Accessed 1 January 2021.
“What is the history of New Year Resolutions ?” DailyHistory.org, Last Edited 22 January 2020, https://dailyhistory.org/What_is_the_history_of_New_Year_Resolutions_%3F. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
Zantel-Wiener, Amanda. “A Brief History of New Year’s Resolutions: Where They Began & Why They Fail.” Hubspot, 9 January 2017, Last Updated 28 July 2017, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/history-of-new-years-resolutions. Accessed 1 January 2021.