It’s the end of the year and it’s a time when people tend to reflect upon their lives – the things they like about it and the things they want to change.  New Year’s Resolutions.  Just how did they come be? Here’s a departure from our usual fitness and health related blog to give you a short history lesson about New Year’s resolutions.

More than 4,000 years ago, Babylonians celebrated the new year in March for the arrival of the spring harvest. One of the most common acts was to return all the borrowed farming equipment. During this time, they also crowned a new king or reaffirmed the loyalty to the old king, if he was still sitting on the throne. The Babylonians worshipped their gods on this day and asked the gods to bless the upcoming year.

Centuries later, the Romans celebrated the new year with similar traditions in March.  On March 1, Rome’s magistrates would declare before the Roman Senate that they had performed their duties in accordance with the laws and then the new magistrates would be sworn into office.  Once Rome became an empire, New Year’s Day then became the day for all city officials and soldiers to swear an oath of loyalty to the Emperor.

Over time and after they had conquered much of the world, the Romans became less warlike and changed the date of celebrating the new year in March, associated with Mars, the god of war, to a January.  January gets its name from Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forward into the new one. Janus is also the god of hearth and home. A statue of Janus was constructed during the time of Julius Caesar (and it still remains today) on the bridge Ponte Fabricio, which crosses the Tiber River in Rome to Tiber Island.  Even now, it is believed that touching the head of Janus as you cross the bridge will bring you good luck.

The Romans began the tradition of making resolutions, typically moral based such as being good to others. The Puritans in Colonial America, in an attempt to avoid anything associated with a pagan holiday and even avoided the name “Janus” by referring to January as “First Month”, avoided New Year’s celebrations.  They did however encourage their children to reflect upon the past year and commit to making better use of their time and actions towards others in the upcoming year, thus adopting the custom of making resolutions.

The desire to start anew continued in America as John Wesley established a new church service in the Methodist Church.  The Covenant Renewal Services were held on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as an alternative to the holiday partying and revelry.  Today, these services are now held on New Year’s Eve and worshippers pray, sing, and reaffirm their commitment to God.

NewYear’s resolutions are now a secular tradition and most people focus on self-improvement.  A recent poll indicated over 88 percent of Americans will make at least one resolution this year.  The most common resolutions are to lose weight, save more money, quit smoking, maintain a budget, spend more time with family, exercise more, eat healthier, find another job, and be more organized. According to the poll, less than 20 percent will be successful in one of their resolutions.

That sounds like a great topic for next week’s blog: How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions.  Happy Holidays, Metro Fitness Club.