Welcome to 2017! Did you make your New Year’s resolutions? It’s a 4,000-year tradition that dates to the Babylonians who started their new years at the Spring Equinox in a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu. The most common resolutions then were to pay up on debts and return things that were borrowed.
Later in ancient Rome, Julius Caesar changed the calendar and established January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. January was named for Janus, a two-faced god who looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future. Sacrifices were made to the deity, loyalty was sworn to the emperor and promises were made for good conduct for the coming year.
For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. They included readings from Scriptures, singing of hymns and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year.
While the root of the practice was originally political and religious, most of today’s resolutions are personal self-improvement goals. Although almost half of us will make New Year’s resolutions fewer than 10 percent will actually achieve them. That dismal record probably won’t stop people from making resolutions anytime soon—after all, it’s a 4,000-year tradition!