Apologies and Promises: A Brief History Behind New Year’s Resolutions

Janus

It wasn’t too long ago that people were making promises to themselves about how they would be better in the new year. I saw plenty of social media updates about “2015: The Year of Me.” People listed all the ways they would change for the better after they cured their New Year’s Eve hangover. I also saw plenty of people making jokes about New Year’s Resolutions as well, and it isn’t hard to see why.

In her Huffington Post article “New Year Resolutions You’re Most Likely To Break,” Corrie Pikul states that “about 40 percent of us will resolve to change our lives in some way in the new year.” According to Siobhan Norton’s The Independent article “Why we make (and break) our New Year’s resolutions – and how to stick to them,” majority of people give up their resolutions by January 23rd, which means most of my social media friends have already failed in their quest for making 2015 all about a better self.

So why do we bother making New Year’s Resolutions year after year? The truth is this tradition has been around for so long it isn’t going to vanish any time soon. According to Norton, ancient Romans, Babylonians and other civilizations began the New Year by atoning to their gods for wrongdoings and promised to live better lives this time around.

Ancient Romans in particular paid special attention to the god Janus during this time. Janus was associated with, among other things, new beginnings. He is portrayed with two faces, one looking to the future and one looking to the past, making him the perfect deity to send both apologies and promises.

Over time Janus, as well as his fellow Roman gods, fell out of favor to other religions. However, the fear of new beginnings as well as the past still plagued humanity. So the tradition of looking back on our failures and promising to change them in the future carries on to the present day. So for those who mock this ancient tradition, why not give it a try? It clearly isn’t going anywhere.

Think it’s too late to start a New Year’s Resolution? Think again. Plenty of people stumble throughout the year before reaching their goal. The important this is that you try.


Internet Archive Book Images. Image from page 180 of “Manual of mythology : Greek and Roman, Norse, and old German, Hindoo and Egyptian mythology” (1875). 29 Jul. 2014. Online image. Flickr. 29 Jan. 2015. https://flic.kr/p/oeSsJW

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