The Student Publication of Keystone

The Keynote

The Student Publication of Keystone

The Keynote

The Student Publication of Keystone

The Keynote

New Year’s Resolutions: Then vs. Now

Credit: Unsplash (Ian Schneider)

Everyone has heard of New Year’s resolutions. They’re pretty simple: at the end of the year, you make yourself a list of promises that you intend to keep the following year, as challenging as it may be to keep them. Later, you can reflect on how they have bettered your life. As the time for the new year comes, New Year’s resolutions become a topic of great interest for many people who want to better themselves and improve their lives. It seems like they’ve been around for so long that no one really questions where they came from. Where did they originate, and how did they develop into the tradition we know dearly today?




The very first place to have had records of New Year’s resolutions was ancient Babylon, around 2000 BCE. The Babylonians had a religious celebration called Akitu that took twelve days to celebrate. This festival was important because a key aspect involved the people promising to pay back debts and return borrowed items. If they did, the gods would bestow their favor upon them. Keeping your promises and the subsequent reward of good fortune can be tied back to this Babylonian tradition.



Much later, during the height of the Roman empire, Julius Caesar created the Julian Calendar, which started to recognize the beginning of the new year on January 1st (rather than the Babylonian calendar which started the new year in March). At the start of the new Julian year, Romans made sacrifices to the god Janus, the god of doorways, beginnings, and transitions. They also gave gifts to friends and family while, similar to the Babylonians, affirming loyalty to the emperor. All of this amounted to good fortune in the coming year and hope for beneficial changes. Just like us, the Romans believed that their good deeds could have an effect on the course of their year.


The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages, around 500-1500 BCE, had its own version of the classic New Year’s resolution: the Peacock Vow. In this practice, knights touched a peacock, dead or alive, at the end of the year, which symbolized the renewal of their dedication to chivalry and knightly values. Peacocks were also believed to symbolize kingliness or nobility, which could mean that the knights were also reaffirming their loyalty to the king or to the upper class, a seemingly common theme with many old traditions. A modern version of the Peacock Vow might be seen as a resolution to be a harder worker or a loyal friend.


Change Over Time

Although it is apparent that many ancient people practiced some sort of tradition similar to New Year’s resolutions, these traditions clearly have not stayed the same over the years. 



One major way they have changed is in the justification for resolutions. While ancient practices were mostly tied to religious beliefs or social debts, modern practices are much more secular and ambiguous. This old pattern likely became a thing of the past when modern government and freedom of speech became more widespread, leaving people to decide what they wanted to improve in themselves instead of obeying what other spiritually or socially superior individuals required of them.



Another change in old practices of New Year’s resolutions is the time period in which resolutions take place. Ancient traditions usually took place in shorter periods of time and relied on singular events, such as paying back debts or making sacrifices to gods, to result in long-lasting rewards. Modern resolutions usually take place over the course of a few months to a year and are seen as more long-term commitments, such as working out every day, writing in a gratitude journal, or being kinder towards others. This new form of making resolutions caters more towards current fast-paced lifestyles which value hard work and dedication, contrary to ancient and mostly ignorant lifestyles which included a lot of praying, unpredictability, and reliance on unknown forces. When you have an unstable view of what will happen in the next year or two, it’s easy to assume one action can fix things. Today, more stability is present in our day-to-day lives, which means we have to rely on our habitual actions more often.


The way we perceive ourselves and the actions we will take when going into the new year has undoubtedly changed over many centuries. Although we may have had different ways to express our wish for change, the one thing that connects us through time is a desire to improve ourselves and our lives. I encourage you to always remember that if your determination is strong enough, you should never give up on your New Year’s resolutions! Happy New Year!



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