Column, Looking Back

New Year’s resolutions of yesteryear

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Well, it’s almost time to make New Year’s resolutions. I was curious to know how the tradition started so my research began. I was surprised to learn how long that tradition has been around. I wondered if Americans came up with the idea. But I was totally wrong.

The ancient Babylonians are believed to be the first people to make New Year’s resolutions. They began holding celebrations 4,000 years ago in mid-March, which was when the New Year began for them. They made promises to the gods to do such things as pay their debts and return any borrowed objects. These rituals were the forerunners to our New Year’s resolutions. If they kept their resolutions the gods would bestow a favor on them.

The Romans got in on the act around 46 B.C.when Emperor Julius Caesar changed the calendar so that the New Year began on January 1. The month was named for Janus, a god who had two faces. One face looked back at the previous year and the other looked ahead to the coming year. The Romans made promises of good conduct in the New Year.

Fast forward to 1740 and clergyman John Wesley created a service that included reading from scriptures and singing hymns. People thought about their past mistakes and resolved to do better in the future. It was a quiet way to celebrate the New Year, not at all like our modern day celebrations.

In today’s world resolutions are focused on the individual. They are usually related to self-improvement, such as exercise and weight loss.

So what is the success rate of our attempts to better ourselves? The American Medical Association was involved in polls taken in the 1980s and 1990s. It found that 46% of people who made health-related resolutions for New Years were 10 times more successful than those who did so at other times of the year. So if you need a date on the calendar to motivate you, it’s here!

An article I was reading had some resolution ideas that are particularly appropriate for my “Looking Back” column. It suggests “retro resolutions,” which involve going back in time and doing some of the fun things we used to do.

One suggestion was to go roller skating during the coming year. Now if you are a “senior” that retro experience might not keep you on your feet these days! I remember my roller skates from the ’50s, shiny silver metal with a key and a leather strap that went around my shoes. All of my friends had the same kind and we would cruise up and down the sidewalks of Howard Avenue for hours on end.

There are many TV channels that offer us a chance to go back in time. Why not make a resolution to take half an hour each week and relax as you watch one of your favorite TV shows from yesteryear? My choice would be “Leave It to Beaver,” “Hazel” or “I Love Lucy.” When I was a kid I thought Lucy’s friend, Ethel Mertz, and the Baxters’ maid, Hazel, were quite chubby and also old. I am now older than they were at the time — but in my mind I am still “young.” If Ethel, Hazel and I all got on the scale they would probably weigh less than I do, too! Oh, how our perception of things changes as we age!

Another retro-resolution for 2022 could be to visit a diner. That type of restaurant speaks to the good ol’ days for sure. In Rutland Lindholm’s Diner and the Midway Diner were popular spots. The closest one in our area presently is the Birdseye Diner in Castleton. However, a quick internet check shows about half a dozen of them spread from one end of Vermont to the other.

Why not get into the “retro spirit” and do something that my parents did back in the ’50s? Hop in the car and go for a ride. You can head to one of the diners and step back in time when you reach your destination.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

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