New Year Resolution – that’s something almost everyone of us make and eventually fail to follow through with. But why on earth do we do that? Where did this tradition come from in the first place? This is where we need to travel through time and look back into the ancient world of the Babylonians. Yes, we can blame them or thank them for giving us something that we barely follow and still we do…
New Year Resolution is a 4,000-year-old tradition
Yes, this New Year Resolution tradition dates all the way back to the Babylonians who lived some 4,000 years ago. However, they didn’t have their big day on January 1st as we do today in most of the Western world. For them, it was somewhere in mid-March. That was the time for their spring harvest and they used to celebrate a festival known as Akitu. Akitu was a 12-day-long celebration.
During Akitu, different Babylonians had different agenda altogether. For some, it was making oaths to their gods with a promise of ensuring that they become debt-free or they just give back the things they borrowed from others. Some used to pledge loyalty to a new king (which used to be an important part of Akitu) or to reaffirm their loyalty to their existing king (should he be chosen for another term).
The New Year Resolutions and of course celebrations were also reinforced with special rituals because that way the Babylonians ensured the pact between humanity and gods continued and that creation was not wiped out.
Romans Changed the date for New Year Resolution
Long after Babylonians were gone, the Romans came. Even they had this New Year Resolution thing in March. During the budding days of Rome, it was rule that the magistrate of the city would stand in front of the whole senate and reaffirm that he carried out all his duties in accordance with Roman rules. After that, the new magistrate would be sworn in. This happened on March 1 every year. This was because back in those day, Roman calendar used to have 10 months and 304 days and their New Year used to begin at Vernal Equinox. This however was causing problems as the calendar was simply falling out of sync with the Sun. The error was rectified in 46 B.C. when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar.
That’s when Julius Caesar changed the New Year to be January 1 in honor of God Janus. Janus had two faces – one facing back and one facing in front, allowing him to look both into past and into future. Hence, Janus was known as god of change and beginning.
Medieval Europe changed the date again for New Year and hence, New Year Resolution
Fast forward to Medieval Ages, celebrating January 1 as the New Year was looked upon as unchristian-like and also pagan. So, Council of Tours, in 567 CE decided to do away with the date and simply abolished January 1 as starting of a year. What the Council did was to replace January 1 with dates that had far more religious significance such as March 25th (Lady Day or Feast of Annunciation) or December 25 (birth of Christ – which itself remains debatable).
January 1 was restored as New Year’s Day during the Gregorian Calendar reform. However, it was not until 1740 that Covenant Renewal service was started by John Wesley (father of Methodism) and praying and New Year Resolutions became a standard practice that is followed by many people to this day. The Covenant Renewal service was an event organized on eve of New Year or New Year Day when the day was spent praying to god and making resolutions.
So, that’s the short history of New Year Resolution – something that most of the people just don’t follow through with even if it is something like reading self-help books or cutting down on fat consumption or the most popular one – QUIT SMOKING!