Annually, many of us will promise to quit a bad habit or start a new positive goal as a New Year’s Resolution. Unfortunately, most of these promises will not be kept. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are resolved. In ancient Babylonia, the act of returning borrowed objects would be considered a resolution. An Akitu, a 12-day festival where they would crown a new king or re-instate the current royal, would be held at the start of the new year. Promises to pay debt and return borrowed items would be pledged. Failure to complete their obligation would put them out of favor with the pagan gods they worshipped. Not a good place to be at the start of the new year.
At the start of a new year, the early Romans would make promises to the god Janus, for whom January was labeled. Janus was a two-faced deity, the god of change and beginnings, who symbolically looked back at the old and ahead to the new. The concept of yearly transition is clear here. It was customary for friends and relatives to exchange well-wishes, and gifts of honey and figs, to make a positive beginning to the new Roman year. Offerings to the god Janus were given in the hope of good fortune and a favorable planting season. Most Romans would promise to work part of New Year’s Day to discourage idleness to avoid any bad omens.
New Year’s resolutions can be as diverse as the culture they belong to. Egyptian New Year corresponds to the annual inundation of the Nile River. When Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, became visible after a 70-day absence, this rising would precede the flooding of the Nile. Egyptians would celebrate this rebirth with “Wepet Renpet,” which means “opening of the year,” in a festival that would promise fertile farmlands in the coming season.
Chinese New Year has origins in the Shang Dynasty, 3,000 years ago. At first a celebration of the spring planting season, the tradition would eventually evolve around a mythical, blood-thirsty creature called, “Nian” who would terrorize the villages every New Year. As a deterrent, the villagers decorate their homes with brightly colored streamers and trimmings while burning bamboo and making loud noises to frighten off Nian. This resolution promised to ward off the New Year’s Demon.
Persian New Year or “Nowruz” is a 13 -day festival that occurs during the Vernal Equinox in March and is believed to have originated as far back as the sixth century B.C. Promising fertile lands with the return of Spring, monarchs would hold great banquets, exchange gifts, light bonfires, and dye eggs, also sprinkling water in a symbolic gesture. One 10th-century ritual involved a staged coronation of a village commoner who would be dethroned at the end of the festival. This Nowruzian King-for-a-day didn’t have a very promising future. Today an estimated three hundred million people enjoy the modern Nowruz observances each year.
Staying honest with yourself when making New Year’s Resolutions is your best bet. Aim for attainable goals that are realistic with your lifestyle. Promises can be made, and promises can be broken, but a promise not kept is best not spoken.