January 1st is the start of a new year in the Western European and American calendars, although not worldwide.
January 1st as New Year’s Day comes from the Gregorian calendar, which is the most widely used civil calendar worldwide. also known as the Western calendar, it is named after Pope Gregory who introduced it in the late sixteenth century.
Interestingly from the 2016 perspective, part of the motivation for this calendar reform was to modify leap years. 2016 is a leap year, as is every other year which is exactly divisible by the number four.
The Gregorian calendar supplanted the Julian calendar, which was named after the famous Roman general and emperor, Julius Caesar. The Roman calendar began on January 1st, and this month is named after the two headed god Janus. Janus looked both backwards to the year that had been and forwards to the year and times that were to come. He is often considered the god of new beginnings, and as such, perhaps we should consider him the patron of today’s New Year’s Resolutions.
Romans would make vows to Janus on or around January 1st but they were not the first civilisation to make promises at the start of a new year. The Babylonians were perhaps the first to do so some four thousand years ago. And chivalrous knights in Medieval Europe would frequently use the Christmas and New Year Season as a time to renew their vows.
So in the twenty-first century, one of our traditions at this time is to make one or more New Year’s Resolutions.
So how many times have you made New Year’s Resolutions on January 1st only to reach January 31st having forgotten about them? A 2007 study involving 3000 people showed that only 12% who set New Year’s Resolutions succeeded.
These tips may help –
- keep your list of resolutions short – one is fine, more than five is too many
keep your goals realistic
keep a track of your progress
Choosing small, measurable resolutions should help you to keep them,
Writing down your resolution and / or telling someone else may also help
But most importantly, it should be a positive resolution – then you feel like you have achieved something and rewarded yourself.
Like most people I have made New Year’s Resolutions over the years, kept some failed at others.
Many years ago, I heard about memory jars. This is where you write down a special memory and put it in a jar so you can look at it days, weeks, or months later. At that time I kept a diary and didn’t see the need for myself.
A few years ago, I saw the idea mentioned in an article, although, as it was in a craft magazine, the emphasis there was on making the jar pretty to encourage you to add your memories to it.
It did however, get me thinking. I had been in an accident and was feeling somewhat less than my enthusiastic positive self. I like some order in my life, and the idea of mixed up thoughts in a jar wasn’t quite doing it for me. I thought about using a pretty box instead of a jar as being easier to keep the bits of paper tidier. But what I needed was something more like a diary but not a diary, to help me measure my progress, keep track that I was writing down the memory.
So I amended the concept. I found a small, pretty notebook. At the end of each day, I wrote down one positive thing that I had seen or done or felt. I kept the notebook by my bed so that I went to sleep on that positive thought.
Some days it was a struggle to find a positive thing that had happened, other days seemed to be full of them.
As time went on, it has become easier to find a positive thing or experience. Small pleasures – the full moon peeping out from the clouds; a bee buzzing happily on a lavender bush; the aroma of freshly ground coffee; part of an evening spent with friends when we couldn’t stop laughing.
I can recommend it as a New Year’s Resolution. It works as a method of getting some structure into your life in a very simple way. It can be thought of as a mindfulness technique, or a way to improve your self-control. It could be used as a means to help you through a bad patch at work or in your life, or as a way to find the focus to take on other changes you’d like to implement, such as ‘getting fitter’.
The beauty of the memory jar or memory keeping is that it doesn’t have to begin on January 1st.
There are still many other dates for the beginning of a new year, of which the Chinese New Year is probably the most famous and widely celebrated. This is a Lunar New Year, which is why the date varies between 21st January and 20th February. In 2016 the Chinese New Year falls on February 8th, when the Year of the Monkey will begin.
Writing out your daily positive memory or indeed starting any new goal you set yourself may traditionally be a New Year’s Resolution – but it can begin on any date you want it to. And perhaps if you start on a different date, you may feel less pressured and therefore more able to keep your resolution.
Historically in many cultures the timing of New Year has been determined by the beginning of spring and crop sowing; as you would expect from agriculturally based societies. These days more of us will have a garden rather than a farm. If you would like some inspiration for gardening New Year’s Resolutions, I have written a couple of blogs on my work website, Plews Garden Design, on that topic – links below.