Who started the tradition of new year's resolutions?

It is said that the ancient Babylonians were the first people to make New Year's resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold celebrations recorded in honor of the new year, although for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted. The Babylonians planted new crops in mid-March each year and observed the occasion with a massive 12-day festival called Akitu. Anyway, people still use the Gregorian calendar today, because it's the closest thing we have to equalizing the Earth's revolution around the sun, so most societies still celebrate the New Year in January.

Bronze Age people also practiced the art of New Year's resolutions, although their oaths were external, rather than internally focused. New Year's celebrations have been around for quite some time, some 4,000 years, but the resolutions weren't always about losing weight or finding love. Today, more than 5,000 years since the first known celebration of the New Year, humans still promise to enter the New Year with better behavior, whether they promise to eat healthier, exercise more, pay debts, pray more, drink less, quit smoking, work harder, or improve relationships. In the United States, New Year's resolutions are still a tradition, but the type of resolutions has changed.

The tradition of making New Year's resolutions goes back more than 4,000 years, to the ancient Babylonian festival of Akitu. New Year's resolutions have existed since the beginning of the 19th century, and perhaps until the end of the 17th century. There is no direct line between ancient Roman tradition and modern New Year's resolutions, but the desire to start over appears repeatedly in Western civilization. And yet, I think there are crowds of people, accustomed to receiving commandments of New Year's resolutions, who will sin the entire month of December, with a firm determination to start the new year with new resolutions and new behaviors, and with the full belief that this will atone for and erase all their previous flaws.

Not only did people make resolutions 200 years ago, but they also broke them and used them as an excuse for bad behavior before the New Year, just like today. Although there is no documented history of New Year's resolutions this early, historians know that ancient Egyptians did celebrate the turn of the year, with lots of food, alcohol and sex, characteristics that stand out in modern New Year celebrations. As the Romans gradually became fewer warriors, the change from celebrating the New Year for a month (March) associated with Mars, the god of war to one (January), associated with Janus, a god of home and home, seemed appropriate, he added. It's not clear how much truth is in this version of New Year's resolutions, but it's fun to think about.

Janus was said to have two faces, one looking to the New Year and one to last year, symbolizing a watchful eye as the Romans moved forward and kept their New Year's promises.

Nikki Gleisner
Nikki Gleisner

Amateur coffee advocate. Total food fan. Amateur social media scholar. Typical bacon evangelist. General bacon advocate.