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The Ancient History of New Year Resolutions

Team StoryWeavers|January 12, 2023, 13:03 IST|


The start of a new year brings the opportunity for everybody to start afresh. New Year resolutions are common; it’s natural for people to want to adopt new habits at the beginning of a new year, hoping it’ll help them become a ‘new’ version of themselves. But very few actually stick to their resolutions, and it’s even become a common joke to say that it’s a new year’s resolution that will be abandoned in a few weeks.

While we continue with this annual tradition, have you ever wondered – when was the first new year resolution made? How did it become an annual ritual for the entire world?

Let’s take a walk down the lanes of history and learn about the surprising origins of the new year’s resolution.

Ancient resolutions

New year resolutions can be traced back to Babylonian times! However, their resolutions didn’t consist of healthy eating or travelling more. According to some historians, Babylonians would start their year with vows of loyalty to their king and promises to repay their debts in 2,000 BC. It was also a time to return any borrowed agricultural equipment, which was a common practice of sharing in the agrarian civilisation. Ancient Babylonians believed that sticking to these resolutions would get you into the good books of the gods for the rest of the year.

The tradition continued into the Middle Ages (500 – 1500 AD) when knights in Europe would pledge their allegiance to the king and renew their vows of chivalry and courage. It is believed that they did this by placing their hands on a peacock and taking their oaths, but this claim still needs to be confirmed.

New Year resolution post cards from the early 20th century. Source: Wikipedia

New traditions

In 1582, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted, the 1st of January became the start of the new year, and resolutions continued but changed in nature. Religion started featuring heavily in these resolutions. For example, Protestants would pledge allegiance to their God and take vows of strict moral obedience.

However, early in the 1800s, resolutions became jokes as they were circulating around the world. Newspapers and magazines would publish satirical resolutions that ridiculed politicians and local customs.

Fast forward to 4,000 years of the present time, the tradition of making resolutions, breaking them and joking about them continues! Irrespective of whether resolutions are fulfilled, it’s a fun ritual that gives us hope for the future.

What are your new year’s resolutions? Let us know in the comments.

Learn about the fascinating history of other traditions in ‘Did You Know?’: 

Origin Story: Who Celebrated the First April Fool’s Day?

Origin Story: Why Do We Say Hello When Answering the Phone?

The Origin Story – Calendars

About the Author

Madhavi is passionate about everything to do with books, art, literature, films, trivia and food. A former journalist, she believes that asking questions makes life interesting.

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