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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Resolutions? Blame The Romans by Joan Reeves

Some people write resolutions. Some don’t. Some like the idea of setting down goals for the New Year, and others feel doomed to failure before they start. Comediennes joke that a list of resolutions is a list of things you’ll never do.

Who started this tradition of New Year’s Resolutions? Actually, there’s little history to explain an almost universal ritual. We do know that New Year’s is the oldest celebrated holiday. It dates back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians who feasted and otherwise celebrated for 11 straight days.

When In Rome

Just about anything you read about the history of New Year Resolutions attributes the practice to the Romans. Supposedly, in 153 BC, they placed an image of Janus, the god of beginnings and the guard of doorways or entrances, at the head of the calendar. Yep. That’s why the first month of the Julian calendar is called January.

Janus was a two-faced god -- seriously -- who could look back on the past and forward to the future all at the same time. He became the symbol for the new year. Romans celebrated Janus and looked for forgiveness from their enemies of the past and looked forward to the future by exchanging gifts before the beginning of each new year, and, one supposes, made resolutions for those hoped for new beginnings.

When Does New Year Begin

Of course, two thousand years ago, the New Year didn’t begin on January 1. Even in our modern world, not every country marks January 1 as the first day of the new year. In 46 BC, January 1 became the beginning of the New Year because of the calendar developed by Julius Caesar. The Julian calendar more accurately reflected the seasons than previous calendars had.

About Those Resolutions

The most popular resolutions always revolve around those bad habits everyone wants to abandon. As you probably can guess, the most popular resolutions in the western world are: stop smoking, stop excessive drinking of alcohol, lose weight, save more money, and get physically fit. In a study on resolutions, more than 50% of the participants were confident they could achieve their goals. However, only 12% actually achieved success.

Interestingly enough, men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, a system of small measurable goals i.e. lose a pound a week, rather than just writing a resolution to lose weight. This didn’t work for women, but women succeeded 10% more often when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.

Whether you’re for or against the practice of writing resolutions at the beginning of the year, I encourage you to set goals. I always think of goals as a road map. Without a map, you’ll travel a road, but who knows where it may go.

Post Script

I wish you all a Happy New Year. Take this blank slate and use it well.

(Joan Reeves writes funny, sexy Contemporary Romance. Her books are available at all major ebook sellers with audio editions available at Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes. Joan publishes Writing Hacks, a free subscription newsletter for writers, and Wordplay, a free subscription newsletter for readers. This post appeared several years ago on Joan's Blog, SlingWords.)


  1. Very interesting post, Joan. I never knew that the origin of New Year's resolutions started with the Romans. I always check last year's goals before writing my new resolutions--or goals,I don't differenciate-- and if I didn't achieve my goals, I set more realistic ones for the new year. Happy New Year to all our friends here.

  2. I never really thought about how New Year's resolutions came to be. Thanks for the information, Joan!

    I'm not going to make any special resolutions,just want to get my books done and sell some of them!

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Ladies, I don't always write goals, but my goals loop and my critique partners like them. As I said in my previous post, I often take last year's list and make the unfinished goals the top ones for the new year. This year my goals will be new!

  4. I do sometimes make resolutions, like you said on the bad habits. Do I keep them? hmm...I think I'll keep that secret! *lol* Have a happy new year, Joan, and to all the ladies of 99cent Ebooks!