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New Years hasn’t always been celebrated on January 1st – and still isn’t in several countries. Here’s the history (and the where) of New Years Day from the History Channel:

Why New Years Resolutions?

The Babylonians were first to make New Year resolutions around 4,000 years ago but they started their new year in March.

Roman Coin with Janus the double-faced god of beginnings & endings

Roman Coin with Janus the double-faced god of beginnings & endings

The custom of setting New Years Resolutions began in ancient Rome when they held New Years in March – the month of Mars, the god of war. The city leaders and soldiers were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Emperor. Spring was prime time for battles, so it was inconvenient for generals to have to travel back to Rome to be sworn in for another year.

Julius Caesar switched it to January – the month of Janus, the god of beginnings & ends, patron of archways & doorways. Janus is depicted as a double-faced head who sees the old and the new year. The day began with oath-taking ceremonies, making promises to Janus and their leaders for the next year, and then festivities where family & friends exchanged honey, pears and sweets to wish each other a “sweet” new year.

In medieval times knights took the “peacock vow” (les voeux du paon) to recommit themselves to chivalry for the year.

Methodist Central Hall church in Westminster London

Methodist Central Hall church in Westminster London

In 1740 John Wesley, the founder of Methodism with his brother Charles Wesley and fellow cleric George Whitefield, held Covenant Renewal Services or watch night services where participants sang, thanked the Lord for the past year, and renewed their covenant with God.

Puritans in Colonial America spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve in the coming year rather than joining the revelry of those around them. This is when New Years Resolutions as we understand them was birthed.

Today – while some may thank God for mercies received in the past year – almost all of us regard resolutions as promises we make to ourselves for changes we’d like to see in the next year.

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