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History of a New Year’s Resolution

history-of-new-years

It’s about that time of year where many of us begin the process of picking a new year’s resolution… then go about systematically not sticking to it for the next 12 months.

As January ticks over, the New Year is a ‘Carte Blanc’ and the begging of our new self. But why do we pick this time of year to attempt such a feat of unattainable resolve and what’s so special about the 1st of January?

The first documented process of ‘celebrating’ a New Year seems to be with the Babylonians around 2000BC– although their new year was in March not January. The Babylonians made promises to their gods to basically be good, return products, pay off debts etc… The idea was not to break a resolution, lest you anger the gods. Accountability from a higher power might have been a better incentive than losing a few pounds.

As with many things in our culture, several of our current traditions can be aligned with the Romans.history-of-new-years-divider

The custom of creating a “New Year’s resolution” began during this period in Rome. The Romans would set moral or ‘good deed’ resolutions at the beginning of each year- Your standard work with the lepers, invade the Middle East and feed the poor… all that type of stuff.

Our word ‘January’ actually gets its name from the Roman god Janus. He was a two-faced deity who looks backwards upon the old year and forwards into the new- A gatekeeper of time.

The date of January 1st has no real astronomical or agricultural significance. It wasn’t until the romans rocked up was it really made a big deal, Julius Caesar selected the random date as the day to honour Janus. He moved New Year from March to January because…. Well he just could, perks of an emperor I suppose.

When the Roman Empire eventually adopted Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century, the moral resolutions of history were replaced by more serious prayers, fasting and general god-appeasement.

17th century puritans in Europe and America tried to avoid the indulgences associated with New Year’s celebrations. They would even go to the extent of avoiding naming Janus, Instead calling January the “First Month.”

The Puritans urged their children to skip the partying and instead spend their time reflecting on the past years good dealing and future ways to improve themselves for god. This is probably where we get our traditional ‘improvement resolutions’ from.

Later, when the rest of Western Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar, the New Year Celebration carried over, aligning the European world with the old Roman celebrations.

And that’s about where we are now….

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So let’s bring our lofty resolution ambitions back to earth with some less than optimistic survey results regarding New Year’s resolutions from 2011:

45% of people will make a New Year’s Resolution they intend to stick to.

Of this 25% will not last the first week without breaking their vow.

After this it’s a gradual drop with 40% not making it past the first month and 65% after 6 months.

The remaining 35% will be whittled down through the next 6 months

Meaning only 12% of people will actually keep their resolution.

The most popular resolution was self-improvement in education with around 40% of people attempting better themselves. This closely followed by Physical improvement (30%) in weight loss or healthier lifestyle.

5 steps for keeping your resolution

You have an uphill battle to go against and no Babylonian god to impress but there a few tips to help you achieve your goal

  1. Aim for a specific goal– A singular focus has more chance of surviving that one to generally ‘be happy’ or ‘get better’
  2. Make it Attainable– Keep it simple, if you overshoot you’ll be overwhelmed and probably quit
  3. Write it down– If it’s written down its tangible and almost a written contract with yourself to succeed.
  4. Make Timeline– Hit figures by certain points- Send x amount of CV’s off by January/lose x pounds in 4 weeks etc…
  5. Don’t Give up.

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Danny Young

Features Editor

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