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The Origins of New Year’s Resolutions

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The Origins of New Year’s Resolutions
    written by
    May Mansour

    We’re getting close to a week now since 2021 kicked off, and we’ve just about settled down from the festive spirits of New Year’s Eve. But now it’s time for us to reflect on those life-changing decisions and promises of self-improvement that we’ve made to ourselves – known as New Year’s Resolutions.

    Where does this ingrained psychological need come from? This desire to start the year anew, with a retrospective approach to past behaviour, and the resulting decision to reform? It’s no surprise that we as a species are inclined to follow cultural traditions, and this particular tradition is, surprisingly, over 4000 years old!

    The ancient Babylonians were first to celebrate in honour of the New Year; only at the time, the arrival of a new year appeared in late March. New Year was at the start of the first full moon following the spring equinox, the day with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness. During a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, crops were planted, and promises were made to return any debts to the Pagan gods. According to the Babylonian beliefs, if promises were kept, the gods would reward the Babylonians with good fortune and grant them a favour. If they broke their promise, the gods would forsake and abandon them.

    Circa 46 B.C. in ancient Rome, Emperor Julius Caesar was first to re-establish the calendar and mark the 1st of January as New Year’s Day. The month itself was named after Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings, endings, transitions, and time, and whose spirit was present in doorways, gates, passages, and archways. Janus had one head in the future, and one head in the past, symbolizing the transition and exchange between endings and new beginnings. Accordingly, the Romans believed Janus to be conscious of both the previous year and the forthcoming one, and would offer sacrifices for past misconduct and promises of goodwill in the year ahead.

    Era after era, cultures found ways to maintain this ancient tradition to this very day. Even though New Year’s Resolutions are no longer part of any religious practices, but merely promises we make to ourselves, a part of us is prone to taking them very seriously.

    Whether we celebrate with confidence in our decision-making and reformation abilities, or re-evaluate our position and re-consider our self-promises, we now have an explanation as to why we are almost conditioned to act the part sincerely. Perhaps there still is a spiritual fulfilment behind committing to these promises, or this genuine obligation to make yearly transformations found its way into our DNA by some scientific miracle. One thing’s for certain, although half the time we fail at keeping New Year’s Resolutions, we won’t stop making them anytime soon.