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Author: Julie Conn, Executive Assistant
Every year at this time, I ask my colleagues to share their resolutions for the New Year. Principal/Owner Becky White said, “Ride my bicycle more frequently and savor the beauty of this life.” Our IT Manager Joe Moon shared his, “Leave yesterday’s pain and sorrow behind, and live for a better tomorrow. God is love!” I enjoyed reading the positive improvements they are striving for, and this got me thinking. Why do we make resolutions? How did it all start? While the custom of making New Year’s resolutions has been around for thousands of years, it hasn’t always looked the way it does today.
According to History.com, Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the New Year; though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted. During a massive 12-day religious festival 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.
A similar practice occurred in ancient Rome after the emperor Julius Caesar tinkered with 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. Now popular within evangelical Protestant churches, watch night services held on New Year’s Eve are often spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year.
Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. People make resolutions only to themselves, and focus purely on self-improvement (which may explain why such resolutions seem so hard to follow through on). The most popular resolutions include:
- Improve physical/mental well-being
- Improve finances
- Improve career/education
- Take a trip
- Volunteer to help others
- Make new friends
- Spend quality time with family members
- Settle down, get engaged/get married, have kids
- Pray more, be more spiritual
- Be more involved in sports or different activities
- Spend less time on social media
According to recent research, while as many as 45% of Americans say they usually make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% are successful in achieving their goals. The most common reasons for not sticking to resolutions is setting unrealistic goals, not keeping track of progress, and simply forgetting about it. But that dismal record probably won’t stop people from making resolutions anytime soon—after all, we’ve had about 4,000 years of practice.