History of New Year’s

1 Jan

Kayla Rudd, Purdue University Alum

With the New Year nearing people start contemplating New Year Resolutions, but why?  Why are people inclined to create these resolutions at the beginning of each year?  History reveals multiple facets of the generated idea of the “New Year” and the resolutions that follow.  While researching the New Year phenomenon, I stumbled upon an intelligent man named Bill Petro.  He basically handed me most of the history that I needed to know about the New Year tradition.   Overall, the New Year began in pre-Christian times.  In the beginning, the New Year started with the Babylonians celebrating in March, but it was later changed to January by the Romans (Petro, 2012).

Now, of course, English had to acquire the word “January” from somewhere.  And what does the root of January mean?  January is the Roman god Janus’s month.  Who is Janus?  Janus is a Roman god depicted below with two faces; he is the god of the doors and gates.  He is also seen as the god of beginnings.

sparklers: text overlay New Year's Resolutions A History


So, the idea of resolutions came with this two-faced Roman god.  These resolutions had a moral focus that mostly consisted of “being good to others”.  “But when the Roman Empire took Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century, these moral intentions were replaced by prayers and fasting” (Petro, 2012).  As the Christians chose to mostly focus on a Feast of Circumcision (a celebration dedicated to Christ) for the New Year, they did not take part in the usual festivities.  Traditionally, the New Year was celebrated with revelries which are noisy, drinking parties.  Furthermore, “the Puritans urged their children to skip the revelry and instead spend their time reflecting on the year past and contemplating the year to come. In this way they adopted again the old custom of making resolutions” (Petro, 2012).

As centuries passed to today’s celebration of the New Year, the month of January is used to celebrate these things.  Essentially, groups come together and have some sort of party (whether there is alcohol or not) that includes some now-traditional foods.  People also tend to create a variety of resolutions.  Most resolution seem to involve increasing health or working on personal financial stability.

Not only are there resolutions with the New Year, there are also superstitions and the need to produce luck for the upcoming year.  People can go online and find the lucky foods that they should eat for the New Year, but Americans have predominately combined foods from other cultures.  Some of the lucky foods that are often mentioned include the following: Sweet-and-Sour Sauerkraut, Brown-Butter Creamed Winter Greens, Sausage and Lentils with Fennel, Hoppin’ John Salad with Molasses Dressing, Cuban-Style Roast Suckling Pig, Sauerkraut with Apples, Salt Cod in Tomato Garlic Confit, New Year’s Orange and Brandy Cake, Pecan Shortbread Cookies, and Coffee-Glazed Doughnuts (Salkeld, 2012).  Clearly, sauerkraut seems to be a common theme.  If you want to read more about this or to even try out the above foods, you can visit the website here.


Petro, Bill.  http://billpetro.com/history-of-new-years-resolutions

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