Oops, sorry. Happy new year. Didn’t mean to say that so loud.

Now take two aspirin, grab a cup of coffee and get ready — because It’s time for your New Year’s resolutions. It’s the time when we reflect on the past year, make promises to change those things we don’t like about ourselves and our lives, and vow to do better in the coming year.

If this is something you don’t do, then just take the aspirin, drink your coffee and relax — because you’re not alone. According to Statistic Brain Research Institute (yes, it’s real — Google it), about 45 percent of Americans make New Years resolutions. Only 8 percent claim to be successful in achieving their goals by the end of the year. That’s a pretty dismal result for a tradition that has been around for a very long time.

The first recorded New Year’s celebration was held by the Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. The Babylonian new year didn’t start in January, but in mid-March when they planted their crops — at which time they held a huge 12-day religious festival known as Akitu.

At this festival they crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return items they borrowed from neighbors. As long as they followed through with these promises, the gods would show favor on the community and all would be well. If not, they would fall out of favor with the gods and bad things would happen. Thus, the beginning of making New Year’s resolutions.

So, if the Akitu festival was the precursor to making Yew Year’s resolutions, how did we move from mid-March to celebrating the event on January 1? That part of the story takes us to Rome around 46 B.C.E., when emperor Julius Caesar started messing with the calendar and declared January 1 as the beginning of the new year.

The month of January is named in honor of the Roman god Janus, who is pictured with two faces. Romans believed that Janus used one face to look backwards into the previous year and th other to look ahead into the future. They offered sacrifices to Janus asking forgiveness for past transgressions and making promises to do better in the coming year. If they accomplished what they promised, all would be well. If not, like the Babylonians before them, bad things would happen.

Fast forward to the year 1740, when the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, held the first Covenant Renewal Service, more commonly known as the watch night service, on New Year’s Eve. This service was a spiritual alternative where scriptures were read and hymns were sung — instead of the boisterous parties held in local taverns.

Over time, making New Year’s resolutions moved from the religious realm to a more secular setting. We make personal sacrifices like not eating too much dark chocolate. We pledge to actually use the gym membership we’ve been paying for the last three years. As a matter of fact, according to the research, more than 80 percent of those of us who make resolutions make ones only affecting themselves.

Yet, today it is more important then ever to reach out and help our neighbors. If you are part of the 45 percent who does make resolutions, try to make one that will give you purpose and help those in need. For the 55 percent of you who don’t make any — why not make at least one that will change your life and those of around you.

Every organization I know needs volunteers. Giving a few hours of your time helping others is good for your heart and really makes a difference. So, I challenge you to make this New Year a year of self-improvement by helping others improve their lives.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a financial services and certified health insurance organization in Traverse City. Questions or comments about this column or interest in our Medicare classes can be directed to (231) 922-1010 or fred@srbenefitsolutions.com.


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