Welcoming in a new year is a good time to get a fresh start, and that is what New Year’s resolutions are all about. Each year, millions of people around the globe make promises to themselves such as to eat healthier and exercise, get better grades at school, volunteer for charity, and a host of other deeds. This practice can be traced back to ancient Babylon.
The Babylonian new year began in mid-March, not January. During the celebration, the people either crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the old one. They made promises to the gods that they would return objects they’d borrowed, pay their debts, and other actions. This was the beginning of what we know today as resolutions.
In ancient Rome, Emperor Julius Caesar decided to change the calendar and made January 1 the beginning of the new year in 46 B.C. The month got its name from Janus, a god the Romans believed had two faces. He was believed to look both backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future. In honor of the god and to keep in his good graces, the people offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good behavior for the coming year.
Christians took this time of year to reflect on their past mistakes and to figure out ways to do much better in the future. In 1740, John Wesley, the English clergyman who founded Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service which was held on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Also known as the watch night services, the people would get together to read Scripture and sing hymns.
Making resolutions is the easy part. Research suggests as many as 45% of Americans say they make resolutions, but only about 8% succeed in meeting those goals. The most common promise is to lose weight and it is also the one with the largest fail rate. Each January, gyms and fitness clubs are crammed with enthusiastic new members, but 60% of those paid-for memberships go unused and the facilities are usually back to their normal attendees by mid-February.
Some of the other more common failed resolutions include saving money and getting out of debt, traveling to new places, volunteering, and spending more time with family. Life can be hectic and oftentimes gets in the way of our good intentions. However, just because some resolutions flop doesn’t mean we should give up on them. After all, practice makes perfect, and this may just be the year that the promise actually sticks.