The History Behind New Year’s Resolutions

Making one’s New Year’s resolutions proves to be a serious undertaking and contains a history dating back 4,000 years ago.

As the year comes to an end in a few days’ time, we’re now thinking about the upcoming and inevitable new year. We’re drawing plans on what to serve at our annual media noche, our holiday traditions to welcome 2024, and yet another list of our New Year’s resolutions. 

In the years that have passed, have you ever wondered how these New Year’s resolutions came about? Where did this tradition come from? It dates back even further than you think. 

READ ALSO: One Step At A Time: On Making (And Keeping) Your New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions dates back 4,000 years

The ancient Babylonians enforced the first New Year’s resolutions some 4,000 years ago (2,000 B.C.) according to History. They held the first recorded celebrations honoring the new year, although they do it in mid-March, not January. This is due to the fact that crops are planted during that month.

The Babylonians called this practice as Akitu. It is a 12-day religious festival where they either declare a new king or reaffirm their loyalties to the incumbent ruler.

Akitu became a tradition where people promised the gods to pay their debts or return any object that they loaned. Keeping their promises meant the gods favoring them for the coming year, otherwise, the gods would not bless them.

The Babylonians’ promises serve as a similar practice we know of today and could be considered the “forerunners” of New Year’s resolutions.

The ancient Romans’ New Year influences

The Romans adopted the Babylonian timeline, but eventually made their own history with the celebration. Roman emperor Julius Caesar changed the calendar, beginning with the month where the new year is welcomed. Caesar established January 1 as the beginning of the festivities instead of mid-March in 46 B.C. 

The date paid homage to the two-faced Roman god of beginnings, Janus. The god symbolized doorways and arches as well. 

Janus, Roman god of beginnings, doorways, and arches
Janus, Roman god of beginnings, doorways, and arches/Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Romans believed that this signified looking back in the previous year and looking forward into the future. They presented offerings and sacrifices to Janus and promised to be on their best conduct for the upcoming year.

Resolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries

The early Christians took the New Year’s day seriously through reflecting on one’s past mistakes and their impending resolutions in the future. English clergyman John Wesley created the Covenant Renewal Service in 1740, which transpired on either New Year’s Eve or the morning after. 

English clergyman John Wesley, the founder of Methodism
English clergyman John Wesley, the founder of Methodism/Photo from Pinterest through

The event included scripture reading and singing hymns as a religious alternative to the festivities we know of today. 

The service, also known as watch night services, made people spend time on praying and reflecting on the ways to adopt better practices for the next year. Evangelical Protestant churches and other African-American congregations adopted and observed the practice. 

The 17th century saw through the popularity of New Year’s resolutions. In 1813, a Boston newspaper first coined the term “New Year resolutions.”

Fitness, finances, and mental health for 2024

Forbes reported last year that the top focus for 2023 was mental health, but for 2024 it changed drastically. Fitness topped the list of the survey, followed by improving finances, and mental health.

The majority this year opted for fitness as a primary goal for next year. 48 percent out of 1,000 U.S. adults from the Forbes Health/Onepoll survey voted for fitness as 2024’s top priority, with mental health behind with 36 percent. Last year’s survey established mental health as a top resolution for 2023 with 45 percent, and fitness behind it with 39 percent.

Forbes’ Top New Year’s resolutions for 2024
Forbes’ Top New Year’s resolutions for 2024/Photo from Forbes

Mental health and fitness correlate to one another as physical fitness may have a positive impact on one’s mental health. Adding these to your own New Year’s resolutions for 2024 is an absolute win. What better way to welcome the new year than to be your absolute best self?

The rest of your New Year’s resolutions are entirely up to you. Remember: never give yourselves a tight deadline when it comes to keeping your resolutions, as every small step is still progress; and just enjoy the upcoming year. 

The best resolution you can include in your list this year is to live everyday to the fullest. You owe it to yourself to be your happiest and healthiest self.

Banner photo from Myriam Zilles via Unsplash.

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