The Origins of New Year’s Resolutions

December 23, 2021

New Year’s is an exciting and joyous holiday. It’s a time when we reflect on the past year and look to the one ahead with optimism, hope, and promise. It’s also a time for cherished traditions of getting together with friends and family for celebrations that may include anything from outdoor activities, eating lucky foods, to watching fireworks displays. These celebrations may also include the tradition of preparing and sharing New Year’s resolutions with each other. It is a common practice for many of us; however, it’s also interesting to examine the origins of where this tradition emerged and how it’s evolved over time.

There are many common New Year’s resolutions. Some of the most popular resolutions include: losing weight, quitting smoking, overcoming debt, and enjoying life more. Many of us develop a new list of resolutions each year without even realizing it’s a practice that’s believed to have existed since ancient Babylon. Several sources note that for the Babylonians, the New Year began in late March and it was observed by a religious festival which took place over the course of 11 days. It included promises made by the Babylonians to their gods, to ensure they would look favourably upon them in the year ahead. It has also been said that Babylonians pledged to return borrowed items as part of their New Year’s festivities.

The custom of making New Year’s resolutions established by the Babylonians appears to have been adopted by the Romans, as they made similar promises to Janus, a two-faced God, who could simultaneously look backwards on the past year and forwards to the year ahead and was therefore, the god of beginnings and endings. He was also the protector of doors, doorways, and entrances. Various sources have noted that Romans made offerings of good behaviour to Janus who became the ancient symbol of resolutions. In addition, many Romans also exchanged gifts with each other before the beginning of the New Year and decorated their homes with tree branches which represented good fortune.

Julius Caesar introduced the new Julian calendar in 46 B.C. to address the problem of the sun not aligning with the seasons accordingly. He added 90 days to the calendar and in doing so, Janus was chosen as the first month of year and January 1st became the first day of the year and new beginnings.

New Year’s resolutions have evolved over centuries, starting from offerings of good behaviour to promises of ending bad habits, but one thing has endured – we still continue to make them in hopes of a better, more positive year ahead. As we move closer to saying goodbye to 2013 and start preparing New Year’s resolutions, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year and all the best for 2014!