Happy New Year! What Is Your Resolution?

Emma Truchan, Features Editor

   Five… four… three… two… one… Happy New Year! This annual countdown chanted around the world marks both an end and a beginning. For many, this cornerstone in time is also seen as a foundation for personal growth. But this tradition has experienced a great evolution since its origins thousands of years ago and has since become a modern and popular practice of personal growth. 

   According to the History Channel, 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians were considered to have been the first to make New Year’s resolutions. The Babylonians were also the first [that historians are aware of] to hold celebrations to honor the coming of the New Year. For these ancient people of the Middle East, the New Year was celebrated in mid-March to observe the coming in of crops. Here, they made promises to their gods to pay their debts, and return any objects they had borrowed. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their gods would grant them good fortune in the year to come. These “promises” are said to be the first New Year’s resolutions (history.com).

   According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1582 by the Roman Catholic Church, restored January 1 as New Year’s Day; Most European countries gradually followed suit (britannica.com). Throughout Christan Europe, it was common for congregations to attend night services held on New Year’s Eve where they would pray and make resolutions for the coming year (history.com).

   Since the sixteenth century, New Year’s has shed its religious affiliation and has become largely secular. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary explains that by the early nineteenth century, New Year’s resolutions were widely practiced, so much so that they were satirized in a Boston newspaper article titled “The Friday Lecture.” The article took on a dry tone, as the author poked fun at his contemporaries in saying that New Year’s resolutions were an excuse for misbehavior on New Year’s Eve, and this attempt of personal growth in the following year would clear their behavior (merriam-webster.com). Far from the religiously pious resolutions of the centuries before, this excerpt could mark the beginnings of modern New Year’s resolutions.

   The practice of making New Year’s Resolutions has since increased in popularity. Now, it is common for many to make promises to themselves, with 40 percent of Americans making resolutions, affirms the University of Pennsylvania Professor Katherine L. Milkman (sagepub.com). According to Clinical Psychologist John Duffy, people have a natural yearning to improve themselves, and New Year’s provides the pressure we need to help us prepare for our ambitious plans (psychcentral.com).

   For most, New Year’s resolutions continue to be centered around the concept of self-betterment, which has remained consistent with the resolutions of times past. According to a market research company, the most common goals among Americans for 2018 were related to healthier habits, such as eating better, exercising more, and overall self-care (yougov.com). 

   Junior Emma Podhorsky is a perfect example of pursuance of a “modern” New Year’s Resolution. In 2017, she made it her goal for the year to maintain a vegetarian diet for environmental purposes. Podhorsky stated, “I made it my New Year’s resolution to stay vegetarian to reduce my [environmental impact]… I’m very proud to say that I accomplished it and have stuck with it since. While some New Year’s resolutions can be unrealistic, I believe that the majority of resolutions motivate people to make beneficial changes in their lives.” Continuing this long-standing tradition of self-improvement, Podhorsky has shown the synthesis of contemporary and historical New Year’s resolutions.

   With 2020 fast approaching, the topic of New Year’s resolutions is on the minds of many. This year, when considering your resolutions, consider the history of this tradition.