a students' magazine / festivals and traditions

Where do New Year’s resolutions come from?

Hi everyone and Happy New Year to you all!

I’m sure you’ve heard of the “new year new me” thing. Well, I can assure you it is difficult to keep a New Year’s resolution, so I thought I would  tell you how they came into being instead of telling you how to stick to them. 😉

New Year’s resolutions date back to more than 4,000 years ago, when the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year, at the time of the spring harvest in March. The festival, called Akitu, lasted 12 days.

In ancient Babylonia people made all sorts of promises to their gods, such as returning borrowed objects and paying their debts. Babylonians were extremely motivated in keeping their promises, because if they did, it meant that throughout the following twelve months they would be protected by their gods. On the other hand, if they did not, then they would be out of god’s grace.

New Year’s Day celebrations switched to January with the Romans. The ancient Romans originally celebrated New Year’s Day in March, too, because on March 1st the old magistrates would be replaced by the New Year’s magistrates, who would be sworn into office on this day.

After Rome became an empire in 27 B.C., New Year’s Day became a time for city leaders and soldiers to swear an oath of loyalty to the Emperor. Gradually, the Romans became less warlike, so they decided to stop celebrating the New Year in March, as it was associated with Mars, the god of war, and started celebrating it in January instead.

January was dedicated to the god Janus, who in ancient Rome was the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past simultaneously.

This was symbolic for Romans, who believed they should forgive their enemies for any troubles in the past. They also believed that Janus would see their wrongdoings in the year gone by and would forgive them and bless them if they made promises and  gave gifts in the new year. The first half of New Year’s Day in Rome was taken up by public ceremonies, oath-taking and temple sacrifices, while the second half of the day was for social activities. Citizens would exchange gifts of honey, pears and other sweets as presents for a “sweet new year”.

This long living tradition was officially recognized, in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII brought the January 1st celebration back in vogue with the Gregorian calendar.

Christians also made New Year’s Resolutions to do and be good in the coming year and New year’s Eve was spent in prayer and hymn singing.

In our modern society, resolving to be a better person is a promise we make to ourselves to try to improve some aspects of our life that we feel is not quite up to scratch.

Good luck with yours! 🙂

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