By Stephanie Pappas, Senior Writer | December 31, 2013 07:56am ET
Planning to exercise more or eat fewer sweets in the New Year? If so, you’re taking part in a tradition that stretches back thousands of years.
Ancient people practiced the fine art of New Year’s resolutions, though their oaths were external, rather than internally focused. More than 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year not in January, but in March, when the spring harvest came in. The festival, called Akitu, lasted 12 days.
An important facet of Akitu was the crowning of a new king, or reaffirmation of loyalty to the old king, should he still sit on the throne. Special rituals also affirmed humanity’s covenant with the gods; as far as Babylonians were concerned, their continued worship was what kept creation humming.
Roman New Year
Centuries later, the ancient Romans had similar traditions to ring in their new year, which also originally began in March. In the early days ofRome, the city magistrates’ terms were defined by this New Year’s date. On March 1, the old magistrates would affirm before the Roman Senate that they had performed their duties in accordance with the laws. Then, the New Year’s magistrates would be sworn into office.