Though New Year's resolutions have a checked history in my own life, it surprised me to find out that the practice of reflection and renewal at the start of a new year is an age-old tradition.
New Year's History and Traditions
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions goes back to ancient times. In 2000 B.C., the Babylonians celebrated the New Year for 11 days (starting with the vernal equinox). One popular resolution was the returning of borrowed farm equipment (which makes sense for an agriculturally based society).
The Babylonian New Year was adopted by the Romans as was the tradition of resolutions. The timing, however, eventually shifted with the Julian calendar. The Romans named the first month "January," in tribute to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and the guardian of gates and doors.
Janus was pictured as two-faced so that one face looked forward into the future while the other took a retrospective view. Janus presided over the temple of peace, where the doors were opened only during wartime. It was a place of safety, where new beginnings and new resolutions could be forged.
If you think about the land and the seasons, the timing of early January makes sense for most of North America. The active harvesttime has passed, we have turned inward to time with family, and the holiday frenzy is over.
As our founder, Robert B. Thomas, said, this is a time "of leisure to farmers . . . settle accounts with your neighbors . . . now having been industrious in the summer, you will have the felicity of retiring from the turbulence of the storm to the bosom of your family." It is a good time to pause and reflect.
How to Make New Year's Resolutions
Here are a few tips if you're taking on a New Year's resolution.
- Keep it simple. Settle on one or two things that you really can accomplish.
- Define one goal: It should be measurable, doable, and specific. "I want to get in shape" is too vague. "I will walk 2 miles, 5 days a week" is concrete.
- If quitting smoking is one of your resolutions, take a sip of lemon juice whenever temptation strikes or nibble on sunflower seeds. Keep a pencil in your hand to keep it occupied, or play with a yo-yo.
- Resolved to lose 10 pounds by spring? Indulge in a cup of herbal tea to get you through a midday slump or the late-night munchies.
- Any regrets about the past year? To help focus on the future, write down your regrets on a scrap of paper and toss it into the fire. Janus, the two-faced symbol of the new year, would approve.
Whether we resolve to return borrowed farm equipment (as did the Babylonians) or drop a few pounds, we’re tapping into an ancient and powerful longing for a fresh start.
Please your thoughts below—and a resolution if you feel so inclined!
Catherine, our New Media Editor, joined The Old Farmer's Almanac in 2008. She edits content on both this Web site, Almanac.com, and the companion site to The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids publication, Almanac4kids.com. She also pens the Almanac Companion enewsletters and keeps up with readers on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!