When someone decides to break a habit or start doing something new at the beginning of the year, it is called a New Year’s Resolution. It is generally a commitment or promise that would be good to oneself and/or others. Typical resolutions include the giving up of a harmful habit (e.g. smoking, drinking), starting a diet, becoming more punctual or self-confident and so on. Surveys suggest that people have a very low success rate with their New Year’s Resolutions. But they continue to be practiced. It’s not unusual for the same person to make the same commitment year after year.
Invention and History of New Year’s Resolutions
Who invented New Year’s Resolutions and where did they begin? Well, people have always associated new years with a fresh start. Even in the most ancient traditions, it was a custom to make improvements at such times. For example, in the Babylonian empire people made promises to do better starting March 23, their new year (spring equinox). One common resolution was to give back something one had borrowed in the past year.
In Rome, Janus was the god of the New Year. The month of January was named after him. The New Year began on January 1 according to the Julian Calendar invented by Caesar in 46 BC. Janus had two faces: one looked back on the past and the other into the future. The Romans worshipped him as a symbol of endings and new beginnings. During the holiday, they would do things that would hopefully kick off their year to a good start. They would make up with people they quarreled with and exchange gifts. Out of vanity, the Roman emperors kept on tampering with their calendar until it became more and more inaccurate. But even when the dates shifted, the practices stayed the same.
New Year celebrations were also held in China. But they used a lunar calendar, not a solar one. The Chinese did not invent New Year’s Resolutions. Instead they blamed their bad luck on malicious spirits and sent them away with firecrackers.
Modern New Year’s Resolutions are secular in nature. But the custom must have had spiritual roots. It certainly reminds one of some religious practices. For example in Judaism one is expected to look back on one’s behavior during the past year. This was supposed to motivate the person to do better the following year.
An esoteric view of the New Year makes it the rebirth of life in spring after winter. Traditionally the new year began in the springtime when the sun entered Aries (in ancient times). So a resolution at this time may have symbolized the purification of the spirit.