People around the world like to make new-year resolutions: lose weight, stop drinking, quit smoking, become more active, and engage in a new hobby, etc. Notably, the tradition of new-year resolutions came from four millennia ago, far older than the establishment of the festival.
When the Babylonians made the historic first resolutions, they often had practical agricultural or economic concerns -- like repaying debts or returning borrowed farm equipment to receive harvests bestowed by the gods. Akitu, a 12-day festival to celebrate the renewal of life, kicked off the agrarian year. Similar in mindset, the ancient Egyptians wished for good fortune and abundance, making sacrifices to Hapi, the god of the Nile, at the beginning of their year in July when the Nile’s annual flood started a fertile period.
Emperor Julius Caesar designated January 1st New Year’s Day, naming the month of January after Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. The Romans prayed and confessed in order to reinforce their values and beliefs.
Modern-day new-year resolutions have lost their religious implications, but maintain the cleansing/catharsis overtones. Today, we still like to have a clean slate around the New Year’s. New-year resolutions are common in countries like America, Canada, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia, and South Africa, while Latin American, Scandinavian, Asian and Eastern European countries have their own versions of festivities.
In Poland, New Year’s Eve is “St. Sylvester’s Eve” because Pope Sylvester captured a dragon and prevented the doom of the world. Estonians eat 7, 9, or 12 times on New Year’s Eve, but leave some food for the dead ancestors and spirits who come visit on New Year’s Eve. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, people prepare fireworks, go to concerts, and give gifts from Dyed Mraz (Father Frost) for the kids. Russians’ new-year resolutions often focus on education. The Chinese/Korean New Year is between January 21st and February 20th according to the lunar calendar. People wear new clothes to start the year fresh and new.
From ancient to modern days, from the East to the West, the beginning of the year is the time to celebrate and to set important goals. Universal hopes and dreams often relate to good health, love, career, finance, and education. No matter how one led his or her life before, a better self or way of living is in the making. Have a happy and prosperous new year, everybody!