It’s January! Did you make your New Year’s Resolutions? Forty-five percent of Americans will make resolutions, but only 8% will achieve their goals. With over 4,000 years of experience, you would think we would be better at making and keeping them!

It is believed that it all started with the ancient Babylonians, who were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the New Year. However, their New Year was in mid-March, when they planted their crops. During the 12-day religious festival, known as Akitu, they either crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. The Babylonians would make promises to the gods to return borrowed objects and to pay any outstanding debts. If they kept their word, their pagan gods would grant them a favor in the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the god’s favor, and no one wanted to be in that place. These promises are considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions.

Babylonian religious festival, Akitu.

The Babylonians were not the only civilization in ancient times who made New Year’s resolutions. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar established January 1 as the beginning of the New Year. January is named for the two-faced god Janus, whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches. The Romans believed that Janus could look backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future, so they offered sacrifices and made promises to the god for the coming year.

The two-faced god, Janus.

Early Christians looked at the first day of the New Year as a time to reflect about one’s past mistakes and to resolve to do better in the future. The English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service in 1740. The service, also known as watch night, was held on New Year’s Eve or Day and included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, which was an alternative to the lively celebrations normally held to bring in the New Year. Today, watch night services are popular with evangelical Protestant churches, especially African-American denominations, and are spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year.

Today, most people make New Year’s resolutions for themselves, mostly based on self-improvement. This may explain why they are so hard to keep. The ten most popular resolutions for 2020 were: lose weight, improve finances, exercise, get a new job, eat healthier, manage stress better, quit smoking, improve a relationship, stop procrastinating, set aside time for yourself.

This year, our resolutions may focus more on our mental health than ever before. 2021 resolutions may include improving our sleep routines, joining a virtual club, reading more, cooking one new thing a week and eating more veggies, volunteering, exploring new hobbies, sanitizing your phone weekly, giving yourself a new look and taking back your lunch break!

2021 New Year resolutions may focus more on mental health.

Northampton Community College can also help with reaching goals. There are many online classes to choose from, such as arts, dance, yoga, meditation, health/fitness and even gardening classes!

Even with such a low success rate, people will continue to make resolutions, just as they have been for the past 4,000 years!