Ancient traditions: Why we make New Year resolutions

December 31, 2013
Ancient traditions: Why we make New Year resolutions
Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings, was frequently shown with two faces, referring to the fact that he looks both backwards and forwards. The Romans named the first month of the Julian calendar, Januarius, in his honour.

As many of us start to think about our New Year's resolutions (or breaking them), we may not realise that the tradition of making promises on the first day of the year is a custom started by our Roman ancestors.

"Rome's highest officials made a resolution to remain loyal to the republic and swore oaths to the Emperor on 1st January", said Professor Richard Alston, from the Department of Classics at Royal Holloway University.

"A grand ceremony marked the occasion, where the Roman legions would parade and sacrifices were made on the Capitoline Hill. This annual event renewed the bonds between citizens, the state and the gods."

New Year's Day offered all Roman citizens an opportunity to reflect on the past and look to the year ahead. People would exchange sweet fruits and honey, greet each other with blessings for the coming year and the courts only worked in the mornings, so they had a half day holiday.

"On 1 January, our Roman ancestors celebrated Janus, the god of new beginnings who had two faces – one looking into the past and another looking to the future", Professor Alston added. "Janus represented doors and thresholds and the Romans named the month of January in his honour.

"Janus also symbolised the values of home, family, friendship and civilisation, and the doors of his temple were closed when Rome was at peace and thrown open in times of war, as if the god was no longer present.

"Just like we do today, we also know that the Romans celebrated a mid-winter festival in which they met with friends, exchanges gifts and had a good time before the start of the year ahead."

Explore further: Dig yields shrine to Roman twins' she-wolf

Related Stories

Dig yields shrine to Roman twins' she-wolf

November 21, 2007

The shrine where ancient Romans worshiped the she-wolf who nursed Rome's mythical founding twins, Romulus and Remus, may have been found, archaeologists said.

Integration: A centuries-old issue

April 23, 2008

When can a person be regarded as a full and equal citizen of a country? Is a double nationality possible and what advantages does it offer a newcomer? These questions were already contemplated in ancient Rome. The Italian ...

Recommended for you

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

Fractals patterns in a drummer's music

August 28, 2015

Fractal patterns are profoundly human – at least in music. This is one of the findings of a team headed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen and Harvard University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.