New Year’s Resolutions

The Laker - January 7, 2019

By Sarah Wright

Happy New Year! 2019 will be the best year yet, right? At least that’s what we all hope for. Many people think of January 1st as the perfect time for a fresh start. After all the indulgences of the holidays, it seems natural to want to turn over a new leaf and cleanse our lives a little. Although people in other parts of the world make resolutions, they’re most popular in the West, with common goals including getting healthier, spending less money, thinking more positively, being more charitable, spending more time with family, quitting a bad habit, learning a new skill, or perhaps even finding a new job. 

If you want to make some New Year’s resolutions right here in the Lakes Region, you can start by deciding to get out and enjoy some fresh air and exercise this winter vs. hibernating! The Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness offers some great winter programs, such as learning about birds and why and how Science Center staff do bird banding, as well as events where families can walk the Center’s trail in the winter to learn how resident animals live during the winter months. (Call 603-968-7194 for information.)

Picture courtesy of The Loon Preservation Committee

Picture courtesy of The Loon Preservation Committee

The Squam Lakes Association has a great winter hike that will get you moving and give you some great views as well. The winter hike takes place on January 9 and will take you up Mt. Livermore and over some great trails. (Call 603-968-7336 for information.)

The entire family can get in on the outdoor fun and learning at Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center in Laconia, with hikes, snowshoe adventures and more. (Call 603-366-5695 for information.)

How did the idea of making resolutions get started? Would you believe it all began about 4,000 years ago? 

Yes, it supposedly started many years ago with the ancient Babylonians. However, their new year began in mid-March, when the crops were planted. During the big, 12-day religious festival they called Akitu, the Babylonians made promises to the gods (specifically Marduk, the patron deity of the city) to pay off their debts and return anything they had borrowed. If the Babylonians kept to their word, the gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not – well, they did not want to find out what would happen! Even the king joined in by reaffirming his right to rule the people as a divine representative in a symbolic ceremony. The high priest would then determine if the king could rule for another year.  

Later, in ancient Rome, emperor Julius Caesar established January 1st as the beginning of the new year, and in 46 B.C. officially moved the New Year’s celebration from March to January. Named for Janus, the two-faced god often depicted over doorways and archways, January was significant for the Romans. The two faces of Janus represented the ability to look back to the previous year, while also looking ahead to the future. The god represented beginnings and endings, the passage of time, and transitions. The Romans offered sacrifices to Janus, and made promises of good behavior in the coming year. It was also common for friends and neighbors to exchange gifts and well wishes with one another. Believe it or not, most Romans chose to work for at least part of New Year’s Day as idleness was seen as a bad omen for the rest of the year. 

Even knights got in on the action! During the Middle Ages, knights would renew their vows to chivalry at the end of each year. This annual contract to uphold the values of knighthood was called the “Peacock Vow,” since knights would make their promise while placing their hand on a live or roasted peacock. (The peacock was a romanticized bird at the time.) Sounds strange, but the idea of a yearly promise is the same!  

Throughout history, most resolution ceremonies were closely tied to religion. For early Christians, the first day of the new year became a traditional time for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future. In the 17thand 18th centuries, Puritans in colonial America avoided the indulgences associated with New Year’s celebrations and other holidays. Instead, they urged their children to skip the revelry and spend their time reflecting on the past year and contemplating the year to come. The Puritans also made resolutions that most often included commitments to put their talents to better use, treat their neighbors with charity, and avoid habitual sins.In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist church, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. The service included scripture readings and hymns, and served as a spiritual alternative to the debaucherous celebrations normally held at the end of the year. Now popular within evangelical Protestant churches, these New Year’s Eve services, sometimes called “watch night services,” are often spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year. Modern, more secular New Year’s resolutions became popular in the 19thcentury. The first recorded use of the phrase, “New Year’s resolution” actually appeared in a Boston newspaper in 1813.

Today, most people make New Year’s resolutions as a promise to themselves, and not to please heavenly beings. So, have you reflected on the past year, and thought of some way to improve your life in 2019? According to recent research, about 45 percent of Americans say that they usually make resolutions at the start of a new year. So, here’s the bad news: Only eight percent are successful at achieving their goals! I guess I can believe that. Years ago, when I belonged to a gym, I used to dread January, when the “resolution” crowds would show up and I’d have to wait for an exercise machine. But lo and behold, by February, things would be back to normal.  It may sound discouraging, but the main reason people break their resolutions is because they set the bar too high. Telling yourself that you’ll run five miles every morning, or pay off credit card debt in just a couple of months is not very realistic. For example, if you want to spend less and save more, maybe start by reducing the number of coffee runs to Dunkin’ Donuts that you make each week. Instead of crash dieting, vow to add more vegetables to your daily intake. Another way to put the odds in your favor is to tell your friends and family about your goals. You’ll feel more accountable that way, while also getting extra support from others. 

So, what’s it going to be this year? I bought a mindfulness journal over a month ago that I hate to admit I haven’t even opened. I think I’ll set some time aside each day to start working on that. It never hurts to reflect. The most important thing to remember is that any way you can improve your life is a good idea. And hey, if January 1stdoesn’t work for you, why not start on the first day of any month? There’s always time for a fresh start. Happy 2019! 

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