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When Did the Tradition of New Year's Resolutions Start?

Updated on December 27, 2014

Resolutions in Ancient and Modern Times

New Year's resolutions have been around for centuries
New Year's resolutions have been around for centuries | Source

New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s Day marks the start of the year, and a time when people make New Year’s resolutions. It is common for people to look to make changes for self improvement. Making New Year’s resolutions is commonly done to make a fresh start for the coming year.

Did you ever think about how the idea of New Year’s resolutions got started?

It is believed that the Babylonians in Mesopotamia were the first to celebrate New Year’s in 2000 B.C. and start the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. At that time, New Year’s occurred in mid March, when the vernal equinox or the spring season arrived. On New Year’s, the Babylonians would make promises to their gods that they would return borrowed objects and repay their debts. They believed if they kept their promises, the gods would bestow good things for them throughout the year.

Julius Caesar and New Year Resolutions

When the calendar says it is a new year, it is January 1st and it is New Year’s around the world. But it was not always that way. Did you know January 1st was not always New Year’s Day?

Originally, and long before Julius Caesar, Romans used the same calendar as the Babylonians and celebrated the New Year in March.

If you look at the history of calendars, you will find the month of January did not even exist until Julius Caesar remade the calendar. Prior to Julius Caesar’s reign over ancient Rome, the calendar had fewer months than it does today. Caesar added the month of January and named the month for the Roman god, Janus. New Year’s Day officially started on the first of January back in the days of ancient Rome and the first known people to make resolutions on January 1st, were the Romans.

The Start of the New Year in Ancient Rome

The ancient Romans made resolutions on Jan 1st
The ancient Romans made resolutions on Jan 1st | Source

The Traditions of New Year Resolutions in Ancient Times

The highest officials in Rome would make a resolution of loyalty to the republic. They took their oaths to the Emperor on January 1st with a grand ceremony. Thousands of Roman soldiers and officers would parade down the streets. Sacrifices were made on the Capitoline Hill, one of the sacred hills in the city of Rome.

This event was repeated annually and renewed the bond between the citizens, the state, and the gods. In ancient Rome, they believed if their first sacrifice wasn’t favorable, or their sacrifice escaped, they could make a second offering. It was considered a good omen when the first sacrifice was favorable and this was a good beginning for the new year.

New Year’s Day became a time when the ancient Roman citizens would reflect on their past, and look toward the coming year. The people would trade sweet fruits and honey with each other. They would offer blessings to one another and the courts and many Romans would only work in the mornings, the rest of the day was taken as a holiday. The people of Rome would choose to work part of the day because idleness was viewed as a bad omen for the year.

Resolutions Have Changed Over Time

Resolutions have a long history of traditions
Resolutions have a long history of traditions | Source

How Resolutions Changed Over Time

The early Christians believed the start of the new year should be a time to reflect on past mistakes and work on self improvement during the rest of the year. The tradition of New Year’s resolutions goes back to 153 B.C., when the Romans prayed to their god, Janus. Roman gods were a part of everything the ancient Romans did. On January 1st, ancient Romans offered their New Year resolutions to their god named Janus, who was the symbol of beginnings and endings. This god has two faces and is depicted by looking backwards towards the past, as the other face looks towards the future.

The ancient Romans exchanged presents on Jan 1 because it was believed to bring good fortune for the new year. They believed that the beginning of the new year determined how the rest of the year would be. So people would make good resolutions on the first day of the new year so the rest of the year would be good. The Ancient Romans would make promises to Janus in hopes of getting their transgressions forgiven. It is believed this tradition was started as a way to honor the Roman god, Janus. At that time, the resolutions were more about treating other people kindly, and seeking forgiveness from their enemies.

In Medieval times, knights took the peacock vow at the end of the the year to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry. In this same time period, the early Christians believed the first day of the new year is the day to reflect on past mistakes and promise to improve themselves in the coming year.

By the end of the 18th century many resolutions involved being more helpful, more diligent, and to be a better person. Health, diet, body image, and material possessions were not part of the New Year’s resolutions of people of this time period.

New Year's Resolutions

Modern day resolutions are more self serving than New Year resolutions of ancient times
Modern day resolutions are more self serving than New Year resolutions of ancient times | Source

New Year's Resolutions in Modern Times

Toward the end of the Great Depression, in the United States, New Year’s resolutions became more popular. About 25% of U.S. adults made resolutions.

By the end of the 20th century, New Year’s resolutions became more superficial by people focusing more on their vanity, and good looks.

In 1722, Jonathan Edwards, an American theologian wrote 70 resolutions over a two year time period. In 1738, Benjamin Franklin published New Year’s resolutions in his publication Poor Richard’s Almanac. Franklin’s quote "Each year one vicious habit rooted out, in time might make the worst man good throughout."

In 1863, Franklin wrote an editorial about Mark Twain : “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual."

Today, according to a study done in 2007, done by Richard Wiseman at the University of Bristol, approximately 88% of people who make new year resolutions, fail. The study showed 52% of the 3,000 participants were confident they would succeed.

Isidor Thorner, an American theologist did a survey in 1951 to determine the relationship between Protestant values and new year resolutions. Protestant culture highly valued the idea of being in control fully of their own emotions. They would deny themselves frivolous pursuits so they could devote themselves to their religion. There was great shame to those who did not adhere to these values. The new year resolutions according to Thorner helped Protestants manage their emotions. Over time new year’s resolutions lost their religious meaning and became a tradition with the general population. South Africa, Northern Ireland, Australia, England, Wales, and Scotland were primarily Protestant countries. They would give up their vices and promise to reform their ways to be better people to regain their religious standing. In 1947, The most popular resolutions had to do with health and spirituality. Today these themes are still popular new year’s resolutions.

New Year's Resolutions for Kids

More Info About New Year's and More

Advice on New Year's Resolutions

Non English speaking countries don’t recognize the idea of making new year resolutions as much as English speaking, Anglo Saxon countries. Thorner believes there is historical evidence that John Wesley would write about being impressed with meeting men who sought to make resolutions aimed at their weaknesses. Thorner has traced new year’s resolutions as a normal social practice that was once used to encourage people to better themselves and ally their religious remorse.

According to Forbes Magazine over 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, yet less than 8% actually keep the resolutions they make.

At the start of the New Year we have psychological biases the lead us to believe the good intentions we have towards bettering ourselves will be easier than it really is. We are overly optimistic about what we believe we can really do. When we want to accomplish something meaningful, it is important to make it manageable in order to succeed. We are human, and to make mistakes or to fail is natural. But failing once does not have to mean failing forever. Forgive yourself and start again.

New year’s resolutions also give people something to work on, to look forward to in the upcoming year.

Some advice to making resolutions is to keep it simple and easy to follow to make part of a regular daily routine. When making a resolution, be flexible. Make it easy to build upon your resolutions, even if this changes the original resolution. Create a schedule and review it regularly so that you can mark your progress. Be proud of your smallest accomplishments and don’t let yourself get discouraged by setbacks. Obstacles, interruptions, and failures can actually be the stepping stones of your success.

New Year’s resolutions, then and now, are symbolic of people’s hope in the future, and for themselves. Today we have faith in ourselves and a belief that we have an ability to change, improve our lives, and reach toward our potential.

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    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Hi Catherine, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am glad you learned a thing or two from my hub. Wishing you a healthy and happy New Year.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      3 years ago from Wales

      A great hub; well written and researched. Very interesting indeed and I wish you a great run up to the coming new year.


    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing all the interesting information about the history of new year's resolutions. This is an informative hub!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      You've done a great job explaining New Year's resolutions. I never knew the custom went back to Julius Caesar. Voted up.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I don't believe in resolutions either, but they go together with New Year's like peanut butter and jelly. The history of the tradition of New Year's is still interesting just the same.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Hi Fpherj48,

      I am glad you learned a thing or two from this hub. I also don't make New Year's Resolutions. Happy and Healthy New Year to you and your family.

      I am looking forward to reading more of your hubs in this coming year!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Interesting article. I don't make resolutions. I'm so goal-oriented during the entire year that resolutions are part of my game plan daily. :) Happy New Year to you and your family.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      What fascinating information. Some I have been aware of but you helped to educate me on many facts. Thank you and "Happy New Year!" No resolutions for me. I don't need the pressure! LOL....UP++


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