The New Year is upon us, and so is the opportunity of starting afresh and looking for better prospects. Every year, on the night of December 31st, many Americans resolve to achieve goals such as losing weight, finding love, saving money, and so on. Although the big plans and ambitious goals are often difficult to follow through, the idea of a New Year resolution still holds prominence in our New Year celebrations.
You would be surprised to know that the custom of making New Year resolutions has existed for quite a long time. It’s true! The long, compelling history behind how we started making New Year’s resolutions goes way back to the pre-Christian era. However, it looked very different back then.
The resolutions made in old times were less about self-improvement and more about people making promises to the gods, in hopes of earning good fortune and blessings in the coming year.
The tradition of New Year and New Year’s resolutions started some 4,000 years ago in Babylonian times. The Babylonians – a population living in what was then Mesopotamia – commemorated New Year in March when the season’s crops were planted. The celebration used to be eleven days long and was known as the festival of Akitu or ‘The birth of the natural world.’ It was quite customary for people to pray to gods, promise to repay their debts and return the borrowed objects. It was also the time when either a new king was crowned, or loyalty to the existing monarchy was renewed.
Along the same line, the ancient Egyptians would make sacrifices to the God of the Nile, called Hapi. The sacrifices would happen at the beginning of July, a time when surrounding lands would be the most fertile. In return, the people would pray for prosperity, rich harvests, and military successes.
The Romans later continued the tradition with certain changes. Around 46 BC, the then king Julius Caesar established January 1st as the start of New Year. It was a way of honoring the god, Janus, who was said to have two faces. His two faces would help him look both forward and backward at the same time. This symbolizes the end of the previous year and the start of the new year. Romans would pray to Janus, and pay offerings to him.
In the middle ages, the concept of New Year’s resolutions changed again. Now the prayer vigils were used to pledge allegiance to a set of particular values. During this period, some knights would take ‘The Peacock Vow,’ an oath in which they would renew their commitment to chivalry by placing hands on a live or roasted peacock.
It was exactly in the 18th century when the phrase ‘New Year resolutions’ came into existence. By this time, the New Year pledges started losing their religious solemnity and were often used in a more personal context. Physicians pledging to be ‘very moderate in their fees’, and statesmen saying ‘they have no other object than the good of their country’ were some of the modern New Year resolutions that you could find in this era.
With time, New Year became an occasion for people to look back at their failings, and make resolutions for a better future.
Till date, New Year resolutions remain an important part of our culture. Almost half of the American population makes resolutions to better themselves in the coming year. It has also become a time for us to reconnect with loved ones and celebrate togetherness. It won’t be wrong to say that today’s popular resolutions are close variations of those made by our ancestors – all focused on growth and prosperity!