What makes January first the day to start being a better person?

Reflecting on the origins of New Year’s resolutions

If I actually practiced New Year’s resolutions as they were originally intended then I’d have to give up half of my wardrobe, and not because I started hitting the gym all the time. 

While today we often look at the New Year as a chance to start afresh with new habits and lifestyles, the practice is commonly held to have originated with a less self-motivated intention. 

In Babylonian times, a 12-day religious festival called Akitu marked the New Year, which occurred during the month of March according to the Babylonian calendar. During this time they would resolve to repay debts and return borrowed objects in the hopes of being looked upon favourably by the gods in the upcoming year. 

Like I said, the gods would be frowning upon me as I continue to hoard my roommates’ clothing. I’m probably not the only one either. Studies suggest that only about 8 per cent of people actually keep their resolutions. I think I’ll keep my roommates clothes for just a little longer.

Like Babylonian traditions that revolved around a king, the Roman New Year also consisted of re-affirming loyalty to the emperor. Sorry Justin Trudeau, although I won’t be bowing down, I’ll be admiring your jawline from afar. 

Early Christians began their New Year by reflecting on their behavior of the past year, similar to today’s practices and in 1740, John Wesley invented covenant renewal services. These services took place around the New Year and Christmas as a way of celebrating the New Year with prayer and devotion. These services are still practiced within evangelical Protestant churches where people gather to pray and make resolutions for the New Year in a communal setting.

Today’s secular traditions have less to do with religion and more to do with self-improvement. Rather than praying to god, most people are praying for their bank accounts to let them keep their gym memberships — “this year, I’ll actually go.”

But if we were to continue to start the New Year like the Babylonians, what would we be returning? 

As university students, this can range anywhere from your next-door neighbours’ frying pan to thousands of dollars in students debts — the limit, unfortunately, doesn’t exist. 

But rather than burdening ourselves with tangible change, we resolve to bettering ourselves with small steps forward, because if we don’t, who will know anyway?

As the clock strikes midnight and people around the world celebrate the New Year, I can’t help but do the same. 

To combat the insignificance of a mere date change, we use it as a chance to start anew, making resolutions to better our lifestyles and ourselves come the New Year.

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