It all began some 4,000 years ago. Ancient Babylonians are said to be the first people to make New Year’s resolutions as well as the first to hold celebrations in honor of the New Year. Way back then, though, the New Year began in mid-March, when the crops were planted. It was originally a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, where the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. Promises were also made to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. It is believed that these promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions.
A similar practice occurred in ancient Rome after the emperor Julius Caesar tinkered with the calendar (circa 46 B.C.) and established January 1 as the beginning of the New Year.
As for early Christians, the New Year became a tradition for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. Early Methodists held watch night services on New Year’s Eve where they spent time praying and making resolutions for the coming year.
Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Promises are not made to gods, but to people themselves to focus purely on self-improvement. Research indicates while as many as 45% of Americans say they make resolutions, only 8% are actually successful in achieving their goals.
That’s a rather dismal record, but probably won’t stop people from making resolutions anytime soon. After all… we’ve had about 4,000 years of practice, right????