History Of New Year S Resolutions

Many people look to the New Year as a chance to start over, to rid themselves of bad habits and to take on a fresh, positive way of life. This is where resolutions come in. People make resolutions of self-improvement, better health and more.

The History of New Year”s Traditions

The history of New Year”s resolutions spans more than two millennia. Historians report that the mythical Roman King Janus, from whom we get the name of our first calendar month, was a two faced symbol, not because he was a hypocrite, but because he had the ability to look back on the past and look forward to the future. He also became known as the guardian of entrances and doors.

Romans began the celebration of the New Year by seeking forgiveness from their enemies and giving one another gifts. This is where a vague line between Christmas and New Year”s traditions becomes blurred. Christians changed New Year”s Day to Dec. 25 in the Middle Ages, so gift-giving became a Christian tradition.

New Year Traditions

Gift-giving is only one of the ancient traditions that marked the beginning of the New Year. Traditions ranged from:

  • eating black-eyed peas in America
  • eating lasagna in Sicily
  • eating 12 grapes at midnight in Spain
  • giving the front door a fresh coat of red paint in China.

The start of the New Year moved around a bit as various people changed the calendar to mark different events: the winter solstice, phases of the moon, the beginning of spring or a time of planting and sowing. In any case, the New Year is a time of new beginnings for people around the world.

About 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon, the Babylonian New Year was celebrated on the night of the first new moon after the vernal equinox, which was the first day of spring. Babylonians also made New Year”s resolutions, though the most popular Babylonian resolution usually had something to do with returning borrowed farm equipment.

History of New Year”s Resolutions

Making a resolution on New Year”s Day is a time-honored tradition. Earlier celebrants of the holiday went through elaborate rituals to chase away the ghosts of the past. While the Chinese used cymbals and fireworks, others used rites such as exorcisms and purifications. Ceremonies, involving bonfires, processions or parades, often had masks that symbolized the dead.

The logic behind these traditions is that the demons of the past were eventually exorcized by denouncing past sins, bad habits and frailties. A clean slate would provide a release from the bonds of ill health or oppression.

While making New Year”s resolutions is consistent with the history of closing the door on the past year and looking ahead to peace and prosperity, many people make New Year”s resolutions that are promptly broken, abandoned or forgotten.


Wilstar.com (2007). Happy New Year! Retrieved September 27, 2007, from the Wilstar.com Web site: http://wilstar.com/holidays/newyear.htm.