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Rae Largura: The Tradition of the New Year’s Resolution

“In 2014, I will lose weight, volunteer to help others, quit smoking, get a better education and get a better job.”USA.gov

If you molded your list of new year’s resolutions after the government’s web suggestions, you would certainly be busy in the coming year. Those top five “most popular” goals for 2014 were accompanied by some other grand lifestyle-changing pledges to manage stress, reduce debt and get fit, etc.

The new year’s resolution has become ingrained as a part of our culture, like decorating the Christmas tree or writing cheesy love poems on Valentine’s Day. However, unlike the latter, ringing in the new year with a resolution is not the concept of modern American culture.

The tradition dates back 4,000 years to around 2000 B.C. when Babylonians held festivals in March celebrating the turn of an unsullied new year. It was seen as an annual opportunity to promise their gods to pay off debts or return borrowed items.

The ritual was continued by the Romans with an alteration: Julius Caesar, in his reign, changed the first day of the year to Jan. 1 in honor of Janus, the Roman God of beginnings. The Romans then added a moral spin, with resolutions of better conduct toward others.

But when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion, things looked bleak for the January new year’s resolution, due to Janus being a Pagan God. It wasn’t until 1852, when Pope Gregory XIII introduced today’s standard Gregorian calendar, that Jan. 1 was truly cemented as the first day of the year.

Jump ahead a couple hundred years later, and new year’s resolutions seemingly have grown more and more difficult to accomplish (a study by the University of Washington found that in the last decade, 80 percent of Americans give up on their goal after two months). Whereas past resolution traditions focused on performing good deeds or completing obligations, many of today’s resolutions involve expansive vows to create new habits and change lifestyle patterns.

This type of personal transformation is certainly difficult to achieve. Psychologically, it might be easier to accomplish a specific goal rather than adopting a large and vague goal. Then of course, we could always take a chapter out of the Roman’s book and simply resolve to treat people kindly — although you don’t need the new year to do that.

Any subject, any grade: What is your question for a tutor? Email [email protected]. Ask a Tutor runs biweekly.

— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors. The opinions expressed are her own.

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