New Year’s Resolutions, A History Of Broken Promises

By | December 5, 2019

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New Year's Day postcard mailed in 1909. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

While breaking promises is generally considered a bad thing, there is one time of year when millions of people make promises - to themselves, their family, God, or maybe just the universe at large - only to break them soon after. That time of year is New Year’s Day and these promises are collectively referred to as New Year’s resolutions. The tradition of making life-altering proclamations at the start of the new year is one that dates back approximately four thousand years.

The ancient Babylonians are believed to have been the first civilization to celebrate the new year; however, their year began with the spring equinox, which would have been around mid-March and coincided with the planting of crops. Their celebration consisted of a twelve-day festival known as Akitu during which their king would either be reaffirmed or replaced. Part of the celebration also involved making promises to the gods. Typical promises included repaying debts or returning borrowed items. They believed the gods would reward them with good fortune for keeping these promises.

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Akitu festival. Source: (

While the Babylonian new year was linked to the spring equinox, the ancient Egyptians began their year with the annual flooding of the Nile, which occurred at the beginning of July and renewed the land’s fertility. During this time, the Egyptians would make sacrifices to Hapi, the god of the Nile. They believed Hapi would reward them for their sacrifices with good fortune and bountiful harvests, as well as increasing the success of their militaries.

Sometime around 46 B.C., Julius Caesar of ancient Rome made January 1 the start of the new year. Previously, the Roman year had consisted of ten months, and as the Babylonian year, beginning with the spring equinox. However, there were about sixty days in winter that were not included in any of the named months. This was changed around 700 B.C. when two more months were added, but it was Julius Caesar’s new calendar which changed the beginning of the year to coincide with the term rotations of newly elected consuls. This was the first time that a calendar was based on civic concerns rather than agricultural ones.