Many believe that the tradition of making New Year resolutions began with the ancient Babylonians some four thousand years ago. Although their New Year began around the middle of March and not on the first of January, it is the Babylonians who have the first recorded account of celebrations to begin the New Year. Their festival, known as Akitu, coincided with the planting of crops and comprised a twelve day religious festival during which a new king was either crowned or reaffirmed. Citizens made promises to the gods, to pay their debts and to return any borrowed items. These promises could be considered the first resolutions. If they kept their promises or resolutions the gods would bestow favours upon them in the coming year. If they failed to maintain their resolutions they could expect the wrath of the gods to descend upon them.
A similar practise occured in ancient Rome. Emperor Julius Caesar reorganised the Roman calendar establishing the first of January as the beginning of the Roman year around 46 B.C.. January, named after the two faced god Janus, whose spirit lived in doorways and arches was the god of beginnings and transitions. The god had special significance for the Romans because he could both look backwards into the year that had passed and forward into the future. Romans believed that the beginning of January was sacred to Janus and at that time of the year they offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises or resolutions of good conduct for the forthcoming year.
For early Christians the first day of the New Year was traditionally the time to reflect upon one’s past mistakes and make resolutions to do better in the future.
In 1740, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church created the Covenant Renewal Service,(also known as watch night service) most commonly held on New Year’s eve or New Year’s day. These services included readings from the scriptures and singing of hymns. Participants would also make resolutions for the coming year. Watch night services remain popular today in some churches with participants spending New Year’s praying and making resolutions in sharp contrast to some other celebrations.
In recent times the type of resolutions being made has become more secular with modern day resolutions tending to focus on individual goals and personal improvement.
Popular modern resolutions include -learn a new skill or hobby, stop smoking, change employment, drink less alcohol, spend more time with family and friends, read more.
If you are amongst those who wish to read more in 2020 why not start the New Year with an inspirational read about ordinary people who made the extra-ordinary happy. Secret Heroes of World War 2 is an anthology including The Cypher Bureau- about Marian Rejewski-the Polish mathematician who first solved the Enigma code and Josephine, singer, dancer, soldier, spy- about Josephine Baker who was not only an exotic dancer in Paris in the Roaring Twenties but a soldier and spy for the French Resistance during World War Two.
Whether you decide to make a resolution or not all the best for the coming year
Author Secret Heroes of World War Two
bookbub Eilidh McGinness