In history

Every January we’re encouraged to make a New Year’s Resolution and see how long we can stick to it – but have you ever wondered where this tradition came from? Here’s a brief history of New Year’s Resolutions.

A history of over 4,000 years…

There’s evidence to suggest that New Year’s Resolutions date back over 4,000 years! It is thought that the practice started with the Babylonian festival of Akitu. Akitu is a 12 day long celebration that took place at New Year and saw communities make promises to the Gods to pay their debts and return any borrowed items as well as to pledge loyalty to their rulers. Historians say that the ancient Babylonian people believed that if they kept their word on all their promises, the Gods would look favourably on them for the new year and if they broke them, the Gods would be very upset with them.

The practice is also seen in ancient Rome and the reason we celebrate it here in the UK could stem from when Britain was part of the Roman Empire. It was Julius Caeser after all who introduced a new calendar which made January 1st the first day of each year. The name January comes from the God Janus, who has two heads, supposedly for looking back into the previous year and forwards onto the new one. The Romans would offer sacrifices to Janus and promise to behave in the coming year – so basically, a simplified New Year’s Resolution!

Peacocks were involved…

These days, if we say we’re going to commit to something in the New Year, it is only us that have to hold ourselves accountable. Back in the Middle Ages, things were very different. Knights were made to renew their vow to chivalry at the end of each year and into the new year, they did this by placing their hands on a peacock – either live or roasted. The practice became known as a Peacock Vow and was basically a resolution to maintain their values as knights.

New Year’s Resolutions as we know them appear to have become part of the mainstream in the 17th century. In fact by the 1800s, it was so common that there were satires written about making New Year’s Resolutions!

Do you have any resolutions for the coming year? You could pledge to visit as many heritage attractions as you can in 12 months? Or learn about a new historical figure each month until the end of the year, the possibilities are endless!




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