Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions?

By Howard J. Bennett

When I was a kid, the thing I enjoyed most about New Year’s was trying to stay awake until midnight. My parents didn’t force me to go to bed early, but my heavy eyelids usually got the better of me well before the New Year arrived. It wasn’t until my tenth birthday that I reached the finish line and was able to cheer with the rest of the family. When I woke up the next morning, my mom asked me if I wanted to make a New Year’s resolution.

I had no idea what a New Year’s resolution was. After she explained it to me, I said I would try to fight less with my older brother. This got me a smile and a pat on the head from my mom. Unfortunately, the resolution lasted until dinnertime when my brother and I got into an argument about who would set the table.

A New Year’s resolution is a decision to do or not do something in order to accomplish a personal goal or break a habit. It comes at a time when people look back at the past year and make an effort to improve themselves as the New Year begins.

Adults often make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or exercise more. Kids make resolutions to get along better with siblings or to do their homework right away.

Like many traditions, New Year’s resolutions have a long and interesting history.

New Year’s was first celebrated four thousand years ago in ancient Babylon. Although the Babylonians did not have a written calendar, historians determined that they observed New Year’s in late March with the arrival of the spring season.

The month of January is named for the Roman god Janus. The ancient Romans fashioned Janus as a two-faced god: one facing forward and one facing back. This symbolized his ability to look forward and backward at the same time. Janus was the guardian of arches, gates, doors, beginnings and endings.

The Roman calendar went through a number of changes as different emperors came to power. In 153 BC, the Roman senate declared that the New Year would begin on January 1. But it wasn’t until Julius Caesar took the throne in 46 BC that the calendar was adjusted so that January falls where it does today. To accomplish this, Caesar let the previous year continue for 445 days.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions began during the reign of Caesar. At the time, New Year’s resolutions were of a moral nature such as being kind to others.

If you would like to make a New Year’s resolution this year, here are some options to consider:

  • Volunteer at a church, synagogue or animal rescue organization.
  • Help out around the house and do your chores without complaining.
  • Be kind to your friends, teachers and family members.

Remember that it takes work to keep a New Year’s resolution. Don’t worry if you slip up once or twice. If you stay committed to what you want to accomplish, you’ll be proud of yourself in the end. And you’ll be a better person at the end of 2013 than your were at the beginning!

© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

(First published in the Washington Post 12/31/12.)
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