Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? If so, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans, including me, have boldly made theirs, too. As I’ve written before, the problem with such resolutions is they’re a lot easier to make than they are to keep.
Most of us know folks, including ourselves, who have resolved to eat healthier, exercise more, quit smoking, and so on, only to break one or more of those resolutions sooner or later. Still, we continue to make them every year, knowing it may be the “triumph of hope over experience.”
The custom of making New Year’s resolutions is nothing new, of course. It’s been around for thousands of years. For example, many historians trace its origins back some 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. They were also among the first to celebrate the arrival of the new year. For them, the new year began in mid-march, because that’s when the crops were planted. Whether crowning a new king or reaffirming their faith in the reigning king, they also vowed to their gods that they would pay their debts and return anything they had borrowed. They believed if they kept their word, their gods would favor them for the coming year. If not, they would incur disfavor and misfortune from on high.
Ancient Romans adopted similar rituals, especially after emperor Julius Caesar declared Jan. 1 as the start of the new year around 46 B.C. January was named for Janus, the two-faced god, whom the Romans believed looked symbolically back into the old year and ahead into the future. Thus, they offered sacrifices to their deity and vowed to behave better during the coming year.
For early Christians, New Year’s Day evolved as the time for reflecting on their past mistakes and resolving to be and do better in the future. In 1740, English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the “Covenant Renewal Service.” Commonly conducted on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, these events, also called “Watch Night Services,” featured hymn singing and Scripture readings, designed to counter the crass mass cultural celebrations with a better, more spiritual option for ringing in the new year.
Despite their rich religious roots, New Year’s resolutions in the USA today are mostly secular.
Instead of vowing to God or whatever other deity, if any, they believe in,”to be and do better,” way too many Americans seem to be singularly self-centered in their resolutions. So, they fix-ate on “self-improvement,” whatever that means to them.
I read recently, “as many as 45 percent of Americans say they usually make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8 percent are successful in achieving their goals.” Despite that dismal record, don’t expect us to quit making-and breaking our New Year’s resolutions. After all, we’re continuing a timeless and timely tradition.
Happy New Year to all!
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.