Jan 5, 2023

What are New Year’s Resolutions, and Where Do They Come From?

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In the English-speaking world you might hear lots of people talking about their New Year’s Resolutions – but what exactly do we mean by that, and why do people make them? We’re going to discover where they came from, why we make them!


What is a Resolution?

Before we look at where they came from, and why we make them, what does ‘resolution’ even mean?

The word ‘resolution’ has several meanings. Maybe you’ve heard people say resolution when they’re talking about a screen, or an image. In this case, resolution means how detailed the image is – so high-resolution is very detailed, and low-resolution is not very detailed.

In a New Year’s Resolution, the meaning is similar to the word ‘decision’, but a resolution is actually a promise to yourself. It can be either a promise that you will do something, or that you will not do. When you use it in a sentence, you have to make a resolution to do something, so for example:

  • My New Year’s Resolution is to study English every day!

Now that we understand what resolution really means, let’s look at the history of New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolution (1)

Where Do They Come From?

Making a resolution at the new year dates back longer than you might guess – they’re around 4,000 years old!

The Ancient Babylonians, who lived around the years 2,000 BC to 500 BC used to celebrate the New Year during a festival called Akitu, which took place at the start of Spring. The festival was 12 days long, and the people would use this time to plant new crops, make promises to the gods to pay their debts, and return anything they had borrowed. This could be considered an ancestor to the way we make resolutions now.

The Roman Empire continued the tradition of making resolutions, but in 46 BC, they shifted the timing, so that the New Year was celebrated on January 1st. The Romans made sacrifices and promises to the god Janus, who had two faces – one looking forward to new beginnings, and one reflecting on the past.

By the 19th century, the tradition was wide-spread, and one of the earliest examples of the complete phrase “new year resolution” was found in a newspaper in Boston in 1813.

Why Do We Make Them

Why Do We Make Them?

Despite originally being based on religious customs, these days resolutions are a very secular thing. Secular means something that has nothing to do with religion. So why do we make them?

For some people, the New Year is seen as a fresh start, and a chance to change things for the better. The most popular resolutions made by people focus on improvement, with goals like quitting smoking, losing weight, or exercising more often.

Other people might make resolutions at the new year, because they see it as a competition against others. This helps them stay motivated, as they can compare their progress with others, and this keeps them accountable.

Despite the many different reasons for making resolutions. A study in 2007 at the University of Bristol showed that 88% of people who made New Year’s Resolutions actually failed them!

What Do They Make

What Resolutions Do People Make?

Like we mentioned above, the most popular New Year’s Resolutions involve improving yourself.

A 2023 poll by YouGov asked some British people what their resolutions were, and a lot of them were related to health. 53% of those people made a resolution to improve their fitness, and 43% of people wanted to lose weight, or improve their diet.

Despite this, other popular resolutions included saving more money, which 41% of people wanted to do, or taking up a new hobby, which 19% of people wanted to do. 9% of people even made a New Year’s Resolution to volunteer, or do charity work.

If your New Year’s Resolution is to learn English, or even experience a new culture, why don’t you look at our English Centres in London, Dublin, and Eastbourne?

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