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Friday, January 2, 2009

The History of New Year's Resolutions

“I know everyone says they are making New Year’s resolutions; but why do they? What is the history behind it?” The Newton Falls Public Library has a wonderful resource for looking at this question and others related to this holiday season. The Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations: over 240 alphabetically arranged entries covering Christmas, New Year's, and related days of observance, including folk and religious customs, history, legends, and symbols from around the world; supplemented by a bibliography and lists of Christmas Web sites and associations ... by Tanya Gulevich is a fascinating book to thumb through, covering diverse topics from Adam and Eve Day to Zagmuk. Adam and Eve Day is a feast day on the Sunday before Christmas. Zagmuk is an ancient Mesopotamian festival resembling Twelfth Night and the Twelve Days of Christmas.

According to Gulevich, there are many activities connected to New Year’s. In 567, Church officials ordered “Christians to fast and do penance during the first few days of the new year [p.550].” In the 1500s the Puritans felt that New Year’s Eve should be spent in self-examination and prayer. Devout Protestants in the 1800s also wanted to celebrate the holiday in a quiet manner, to sing, pray, worship, and to begin the upcoming year by forming spiritual and pious resolutions. Modern resolutions began in the early 1900s when people stopped resolving simply religious improvement, and began to look at other areas of self-improvement.

Several sites including date the tradition back to the early Babylonians, whose most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. The founder of New Year’s Resolution Week, Gary Ryan Blair in his online article, The History of New Years Resolutions [] traces the tradition back to 153 B.C. when Janus, a mythical Roman king was put at the head of the calendar. He was pictured as two-faced, looking both back to the past and forward to the future, and thus became the ancient symbol for resolutions when many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies.

Wherever it began, making resolutions is still very popular. USA Gov [] lists some popular resolutions such as manage debt, drink or smoke less, reduce stress,
lose weight, eat right and get fit and links to how to successfully fulfill them. A Wall Street Journal poll released on February 7, 2008 reported that fewer people were making resolutions. The top three that people attempted were to exercise more frequently, lose weight, and eat a healthier diet.

Out of curiosity, we expanded our online search to find some unusual resolutions. A particular favorite from the many sites available was “10 New Year's Resolutions for My Cat” [] where the first one is, I will no longer sleep on my owner’s head. . .

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