Driving to work this morning I began thinking about the New Year and, more specifically, what resolutions I would make. I love the feeling this particular change in time inspires: an earnest desire to do good — be it for myself, my family, or the word around me. Sure, some people think New Year’s resolutions are a New Age invention by those long-haired types; but I take these resolutions — these vows of self betterment — quite seriously. I plan; I invest much thought, time and energy in deciding what actions I really will commit to embracing; I write them down in a journal entry. And then I resolve. When the New Year is ushered in, I celebrate: I hug family and call my mother just after the stroke of midnight and drink copious amounts of
champagne sparkling wine just before I fall asleep at 12:07 a.m. And the next morning, I move forward on my silent promises of personal improvement.
Fast forward to December: I have no idea what last year’s resolutions were. Worse, I have no idea to where the “journal” entry — aka backside of an envelope — has floated off. I’m pretty sure one *might* have involved cleaning under my bed — which I did do, back in September. But that just might have been out of necessity. The rest? Not entirely sure. I probably resolved to lose weight (which has been on my list for several years ) and actually *did* succeed there – so regardless of whether or not I wrote down that particular, painful desire, I’m chalking it up as a win.
Sadly, I did not become fluent in Spanish — which I know for a fact is on my list every year. But I think that I deserve points for the effort as I did thumb through my old college text book a few times. (Here, I mentally offer the phrase, “Hola doctora. Me alegro de que venga a ver a mi hijo” — which I memorized in high school and sounds very impressive when spoken quickly — to prove that “I’ve still got it, baby.”)
Back to my morning drive. As I began mulling over this year’s resolution contenders, I pondered the tradition and rapidly realized I wasn’t aware of its origins. Seriously, when did this whole annual promise-to-improve thing begin? Based on my extensive study of other cultures (aka television watching), I know that this is not a singularly American tradition, and it’s old, like really old — so my historical go-to answers of “during the Great Depression” or “sometime during the Civil war” are out. Hence, I turned to my smartest friend: Wikipedia.
Wiki (as I call her) says that while there are many religious traditions that relate to this annual offering (the Christian tradition of Lent and the Jewish practice of reflection and contrition during Judaism’s New Year), it appears that the origin of New Year’s resolutions date even further back.
“The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.” Additionally, Romans kicked off the annum by making promises to the god Janus — namesake of the month of January.
Thus, this promise thing is not just old; it’s oooold old, with roots well into the dawn civilization. And when you take part in the planning of making your life better, you are reaching back and connecting to the well-spring of human self improvement. Those Romans were sandal wearers, sure, but who knew the Babylonians were so hippy-dippy?