Exploring the long history of New Year’s Resolutions


Have you or a loved one experienced any of the following symptoms this holiday season?

• Eating pie for breakfast

• Playing hooky from the gym

• Binge watching Christmas movies until the wee hours of the morning while riding a cookie-induced sugar high

• Been told your blood type is hot chocolate

• Spent money like you’ve been elected to Congress

If so, you may be entitled to a significant New Year’s Resolution.

It’s no secret the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas can get us all out of whack. Schedules go out the window and the world gets a little whimsical around the edges. That voice in your head that tells you to go to the gym, watch your spending and eat a green vegetable every now and then gets drowned out by Christmas carols, toy commercials and loudmouth football announcers.

By the time you’ve thrown away all the wrapping paper, there’s usually time for some self-reflection. And that’s where New Year’s Resolutions come from.

This year I got to wondering when the concept of New Year’s Resolutions came about. I was kind of surprised to find out that people have been vowing to lose weight, get control of their finances or drop bad habits in the New Year for at least 200 years, but probably longer.

The fine folks at Merriam-Webster trace the earliest written record of a New Year’s Resolution back to 1671 when Scottish writer Anne Halkett filled a diary entry dated Jan. 2 with multiple pledges to straighten up and fly right, so to speak.

The practice of making New Year’s Resolutions – although the pledges weren’t yet called by that name – was common enough by 1802 that an article in Walker’s Hibernian Magazine was poking fun at the practice of making resolutions and failing to keep them.

“The following personages have begun the year with a strong of resolutions, which they all solemnly pledged to keep,” the article said, before going on to quote statesmen as resolving to “have no other object in view than the good of their country” and quoting physicians who promised to be “very moderate in their fees.”

It looks like our collective frustration with politicians and medical bills go back at least as far as New Year’s Resolutions.

At some point following that 1802 article, the term New Year’s Resolution was coined. It appeared in a Boston newspaper on Jan. 1, 1813 in a short article lamenting how people are content to sin the whole month of December with the intention of wiping the slate clean come January.

Guilty as charged. When I’m planning to lose some weight in January, it’s easy to rationalize the prolific eating displays I put on during the holidays by saying I’m working on a more impressive “before’ photo.

The grocery industry has obviously learned how to play the game. Every January, the cookies that have been dipped in fudge and rolled in colorful sugar sprinkles make way for 100-calorie snack packs and kale chips. Lean meat, no-sugar-added “ice cream” and low-carb sandwich wraps enjoy their day in the sun.

Since the average resolution withers and dies within three weeks, I imagine an army of 18-wheelers filled to the brim with Valentine’s Day candy and Super Bowl snacks are already standing by waiting to be deployed later this month.

If you have made a resolution this year, I wish you the best of luck sticking with it. If you’re successful, you can take pride in the fact that you’re doing better than pretty much everyone who has lived on this earth for the past 200 hundred or 300 years.

If your resolution doesn’t stick, there’s always next year.


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