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So, given that the calendar has been whittled down to one slim page, we’ve been thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, to make them or not to make them is, of course, the question one must ask oneself. So while you’re pondering whether or not to take on the resolution burden, we’ll give you a bit of New Year’s Resolution history and tradition.
To get the full essence of resolution history, we must journey back to 2000 B.C., when the ancient Babylonians feted the New Year for 11 days, with each day having a distinctive manner and method of merriment. The Babylonians also had New Year’s Resolutions, the most popular of which was, fittingly for an agrarian culture, the return of borrowed farm equipment. The Babylonians celebrated their New Year on what is now March 23, or the Vernal Equinox, which, when you ponder it a bit, is logical. Spring is the time of new beginnings, crop plantings, lengthening days, rising temperatures and the general end of “hibernation mode” for the Earth and her inhabitants.
The ancient Romans adopted the March 23 Babylonian New Year, until emperor after emperor fiddled with the dates to serve their own purposes and the Roman New Year was no longer in sync with the solar calendar. In order to rectify the situation, in 153 B.C. the Roman senate set January 1 as the beginning of the year, and the Vernal Equinox idea was effectively abandoned. At the beginning of the year, ancient Romans sought exculpation from their enemies and exchanged gifts with their loved ones, carrying on the Babylonian tradition of resolutions.
Even though the Romans attempted to set the calendar right in 153 B.C., it took another 100 or so years before the calendar standardization really took hold. In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar, a Roman emperor with whom we expect you are familiar, established the (self-named) Julian calendar in sync with the solar seasons, and standardized the year to 365 days. The Romans named the first month January after Janus, the mythological god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances. Janus had two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back, and people began to associate January 1 with looking forward to the new year and back to the last one. In subsequent years, Ancient Romans also gave each other branches from sacred trees, and nuts or coins imprinted with Janus’ image as New Year’s gifts.
During the Middle Ages, the Christians, with their usual zeal to undo all things they considered “pagan”, changed New Year’s Day to December 25, to coincide with their celebration of the birth of Christ. They evidently didn’t like that either, though, for they changed it again to March 25 and called it “the Annunciation”. That worked for awhile, but in the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII made what was to be the final tinkering with the calendar and returned New Year’s Day to January 1.
Of course, all this info only applies to cultures that use the solar calendar. Cultures that use a lunar calendar have shorter years, because the months are based solely on the phases of the moon, and celebrate their new year at a different time. In China, for example, the new year begins when the first full moon (over the Pacific Rim countries) enters Aquarius, between January 19 and February 21.
Which brings us to the topic of our culture’s New Year’s Resolutions. As you would expect, the return of borrowed farm equipment isn’t exactly in the top ten, even for those of us who live in rural areas. No, the modern list includes the usual suspects and reflects the prosperity and, perhaps, vanity of our age. So as you evaluate your life this December, and decide on your 2006 (say it as “twenty oh six”, it sounds so much more important) resolutions, we present to you the top ten resolutions of Americans for 2006, so you can compare and contrast with your fellow Americans. Happy New Year, and good luck with those resolutions.
1. Lose weight
2. Stop smoking
3. Stick to a budget
4. Save or earn more money
5. Find a better job
6. Become more organized
7. Exercise more
8. Be more patient at work/with others
9. Eat better
10. Become a better person