Welcome to 2017! I now understand when my grandmother used to tell me that the years pass more quickly as you age.
I hope you had a blessed Christmas and are looking forward to all the new year has in store. Did you make any resolutions?
I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. I am a big believer in goals, but there seems to be something forced and public about doing this at New Year’s. Most resolutions are focused on self-improvement and, according to www.history.com, recent research finds that while as many as 45 percent of Americans say they make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent are successful in achieving them.
Most resolutions are about self-improvement, health and fitness, and the most common are to stop smoking, stop drinking, lose weight or start an exercise program. There are spikes in new gym memberships every January, but by Easter a majority of these will have been dropped.
Other common New Year’s resolutions are around making positive improvements in organization, finances and career. Others focus on family, romance or "quality time" with loved ones, more "just me" time and getting a better work/life balance.
Where did this idea of public commitment to self-improvement at the dawn of a new year originate? The history of making New Year’s resolutions dates back to the ancient Babylonian culture about 4,000 years ago. They celebrated the new year every March when they planted crops, honored their king and enjoyed a 12-day religious festival. They made resolutions in the hope that their pagan gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year.
A similar tradition developed in ancient Rome, 46 years before the birth of Christ, when Julius Caesar changed the calendar and Jan. 1 became the ‘new’ New Year’s Day. In fact, the name of the first month of the new year comes from the Roman god Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit, the Romans believed, inhabited doorways and arches and looked out from both directions.
The Romans offered sacrifices to this deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year as they thought that Janus symbolically looked backward into the previous year and ahead into the future year.
Early Christians made many new traditions to replace those of the pagan gods, and the first day of the New Year became the traditional time for celebration, thinking about one’s past mistakes, and resolving to do and be better in the future.
Later in medieval Europe, the celebrations accompanying the new year were frowned upon by many as they were considered pagan and unchristian, although the idea of resolutions at that time of year seemed to stick.
Knights of medieval Europe also contributed to the idea of new year resolutions when they starting taking the "Peacock Vow" every year following the Christmas season. This vow came from a popular poem written in 1312 by Jacques de Longuyo, a French nobleman, called Les Voeux du Paon ("The Vows of the Peacock"). He introduced the concept of "the nine worthies," a list of both historical and mythical people who personified the ideals of virtue, courage and chivalry. The knights vowed annually to always try harder to uphold these goals.
In the 18th century, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Also known as "watch night services," they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to secular celebrations that usually included alcohol to which the Methodists were deeply opposed. Many evangelical protestant churches continue the tradition of watch night services on New Year’s Eve, which often feature prayer and making resolutions for the coming year.
I will leave you this week with a quote by one of my heroes, the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln: "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other."
God bless America, and happy new year!
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