In 2017 I promise to

  • Lose weight
  • Go to the gym three times a week
  • Be more patient with my children (my spouse, my friends, myself, my whatever . . . )
  • Eat healthier
  • Find love
  • Find a new job

Sound familiar?

Where Did New Year’s Resolutions Come From?

Although New Year’s resolutions are most common in the Western Hemisphere, they are found all over the word. We all know what they are: a promise to ourselves to do some type of self-improvement.

The ancient Babylonians were apparently the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, about 4,000 years ago. However, for them the year began not in January, but in mid-March when the crops were planted. During a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king.  They made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any farm equipment they had borrowed.

The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox. It was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar consulted with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the calendar that most countries around the world use today.

Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor  Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look both back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated the new year by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches, and attending raucous parties.

In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.

This tradition has other religious parallels. In Judaism. on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement),  the culmination of the Jewish New Year, Jews reflect upon their wrongdoings over the past year and seek forgiveness. And the practice of New Year’s resolutions came, in part, from the Lenten sacrifices of Christians. The concept, regardless of creed, is the annual reflection upon self-improvement.

Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a secular practice. Instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions  to themselves and focus purely on self-improvement. 

So Who Makes Resolutions? Who Keeps Them?

At the end of the Great Depression, about 25% of American adults made New Year’s resolutions. At the beginning of the 21st century, about 40% did. And those who make common resolutions such as weight loss, increased exercising, or quitting smoking are at least ten times more likely to succeed compared with those who do not make resolutions.

Here are the most common reasons for people failing at their New Years’ Resolutions:

  • Unrealistic goals (35%)
  • Not keeping track of progress (33% )
  • Forgetting all about it (23%)
  • Making too many resolutions (10%)

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail despite the fact that over half of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning.

  • Men achieved their goals more often when they engaged in specific goal setting.
  • Women succeeded more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.

Things to Do on New Year’s Eve

 In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people bolt down a dozen grapes right before midnight, symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year’s dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and herald future financial success. Because pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Year’s Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, and Portugal. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries, a sign that the year has come full circle, are part of the feast in the Netherlands, Mexico, and Greece.  In Sweden and Norway, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve: whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs, including  “Auld Lang Syne” in many English-speaking countries. 

In the United States, the most iconic New Year’s tradition is the dropping of the giant ball in New York City’s Times Square at midnight, an event that began in 1907. The ball has gone from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter, weighing nearly 12,000 pounds. Some towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual including public drops of  pickles (Dillsburg, Pennsylvania) and possums (Tallapoosa, Georgia)

How Have Resolutions Changed?

Americans’ Resolutions for 1947 – Gallup Poll

  1. Improve my disposition, be more understanding, control my temper
  2. Improve my character, live a better life
  3. Stop smoking, smoke less
  4. Save more money
  5. Stop drinking, drink less
  6. Be more religious, go to church oftener
  7. Be more efficient, do a better job
  8. Take better care of my health
  9. Take greater part in home life
  10. Lose (or gain) weight

Americans’ Resolutions for 2014 – University of Scranton

  1. Lose weight
  2. Getting organized
  3. Spend less, save more
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest
  5. Stay fit and healthy
  6. Learn something exciting
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Help others in their dreams
  9. Fall in love
  10. Spend more time with family

P.S. Weight loss has obviously become important to us. As a nation, we’re the heaviest we’ve ever been. And along with the extra pounds come physical conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as social stigmas like bullying and weight discrimination. But Abigail Saguy, a sociology and gender studies professor at University of California, Los Angeles, points out that bodies — especially women’s bodies — have always been imbued with some kind of social meaning, and she suspects that people are more interested in enjoying the elevated status of a socially acceptable body than improved health outcomes.

Where Did the Holidays Go?

It all started when we began to see Thanksgiving decorations several months ago. Well, actually perhaps it began around Labor Day when pumpkins started showing up in stores. And now, several months later, it is just about over. Most people are breathing a sigh of relief. A few love the season and hate to see it go.

I would think most of the people who love it and hate to see it go are those with kids — small kids — and intact marriages, and families who get along — for the most part, anyway. The holiday season is a whole lot easier for those people. And add to it a love of decorating, a love of baking, a love of entertaining, and just a love of being busy and spending time with people you love — and you can see why there are those who really love the holidays.

People who are glad the holiday season is over, I would think, fall into two groups:

  • Those who consider it too much.
  • Those who have too little.

Those who consider it too much: Even if you love to shop and wrap and bake and entertain and decorate and look at pretty lights, it gets tiring, and many people love it, and love when it is over as well. Maybe there are family issues, or too many people to visit, people who are now alienated from parts of families, people who are far away — or too far away to see at all. Then, there is the money spent, the stress of it all.  Ah! January 1!

Those who have too little: I am not talking about having too little money, although that could certainly put a damper on the holidays. I am talking about those with no family, or estranged family. There are more people in those circumstances than I had thought, I somewhat being among them. Perhaps they have no siblings, no living parents, no children, children who are estranged or occupied with spouses’ families, newly divorced or widowed, and the list goes on. It is a very difficult time of year for lots of people. That is where good friends come in. They become our family. But for many, it is a relief when January 1 comes, and we don’t have to worry about the holidays for another 9 or 10 months. 

Regardless of the kind of holidays you had this year, I hope 2017 is a happy and successful year for you all!

Happy New Year from The Grammar Diva!    

Thank you all for reading and commenting on my blog posts and for your support during the past year!