03 January 2023

A Halkett Happy New Year

According to historians, the Babylonians were the first people to embrace the concept of a New Year's Resolution. For them, them, the new year began with the vernal equinox in the middle of March. As an agricultural society, they planted crops at this time. Then, they kicked off the year with a 12-day party.

The celebration, called Akitu, seems to have been a mixture of revelry, patriotism, and religious ceremony. The Babylonians renewed their vows of loyalty to their king and promised to pay off debts to the gods. They promised to return borrowed goods (Usually thought to be farm implements traded around during the planting season).

These promises are considered the forerunners of contemporary New Year’s Resolutions.

The Roman emperor Caesar moved the start of the year to January in 46 B.C.E. As we are reminded regularly, January is named for Janus, the god of arches and doorways. The god is pictured with two faces, one looking forward while the other looks back. The Romans offered sacrifices to Janus on January 1st and promised good conduct for the year to come.

Using the Caesarian calendar, early Christians adopted the first day of the new year as a time for self-contemplation. It became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past sins and resolving to perform better in the year ahead. Medieval knights reportedly renewed vows of chivalry at the end of each year by placing their hands on the feathers of a peacock. The “peacock vow” was a commitment to be a better person in the year ahead.

On January 2nd, 1671, Anne Halkett, a member of Scotland's gentry, wrote a number of pledges in her diary. These included the vow, "I will not offend any more." She entitled the page "Resolutions.” It is the first recorded resolution to kick off the start of a year.

The full phrase "new year resolution" is first found in a January 1st article, “The Friday Lecture,” published in a Boston newspaper in 1813.

And yet, I believe there are multitudes of people accustomed to receive.

Injunctions of new year resolutions who will sin all the month of December With a serious determination of beginning the new year with new resolutions and new behaviour, and with the full belief that they shall thus expiate and wipe away all their former faults.

© Wikimedia Commons

What I like about the 1813 note is not the solemn resolve to be better in the year ahead but rather the expressed thought that resolutions may serve as an excuse for a December blow-out.

While resolutions have always been about getting better, over the centuries, the emphasis has shifted from an abundant harvest, avoidance of sin, or securing salvation to personal improvement goals like weight loss or smoking cessation.

Let me then gather up the nearest peacock, draw him close, and make a few writer resolutions for 2023. I know I've waited until January 3rd. But, if Anne Halkett can postpone a day or so to drop her self-improvement goals, so can I.

  1. Set a realistic writing goal.
    I read a back-and-forth debate in the online community about this. Write honestly every day, and don't worry about the output is one admonition. But I like measurables. Last year, I averaged a story a month. I vow to be a bit more productive in 2023. I'll stake out 15 stories as my goal. (I know that writers like John Floyd call that a Tuesday.) Still, it measures my attempt to spend a smidge more time in the writing chair while balancing my other commitments.
  2. Set a realistic reading goal.
    This one is harder for me to quantify. I used to keep a running list of the books I'd read in a year. I stopped a few years ago. I don't really know why. As a result, I can’t say how many I read in 2022. So I can't set out a number goal to build upon that total. But I know I need to read more. It's good for me and for my craft. This 2023 resolution, therefore, is a two-parter. Read more and keep a log. That way, I’ll have a baseline for 2024.
  3. Meet more writers.
    Like many of my fellow writers, I'm introverted by nature. That's why I work a job in the jail's basement. I tend to control the conversations with the inmates and don't find myself forced into too many casual conversations. But I need to get out more. I'm resolved to be more active in at least one writer's group. In my experience, it's not that hard. Most people will gush with talk when simply asked, "What are you working on?" I must make myself pose the question more frequently.
  4. Screw up something new.
    Making a mistake I've made before is something I do frequently. It usually means I need to pay more attention. But fouling up in a new way, hopefully, means I'm challenging myself to try something different. It could be a new genre or a different voice. I don't know. With any luck next year, I can tell you about my colossal success with my 2023 experiment.

On the day of this blog post, we'll be driving across the southwest. The landscape provides a lot of open desert and time for contemplation. I'm sure I'll think of other writer's resolutions—consistent use of commas, more and better rewriting.

I hope you remain firm in whatever resolutions you settle upon. May you find the write words for 2023.

Until next time.

New Year’s Resolutions: A Pretty Old Practice, merriam-webster.com.


  1. And, I resolve not to tell anyone what my New Year's resolutions are. That way, as long as I keep on smiling, everyone will assume I'm meeting my goals.

  2. I appreciated the history behind the holiday. Regarding #4, Robert Allen said we should rethink the adage about "worth doing right" to read, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing wrong."

  3. Happy New Year! Mark, I love your resolutions! I will try to keep them myself! There's a Steven Saylor novel where his ancient Roman detective Gordianus the Finder uncovers a motive for an attempted assassination: anger at Julius Caesar's new calendar! Look up Spike Jones' song "Happy New Year" for some New Year's fun! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_4BrQeTFKo&t=14s

  4. Leigh, after watching perfectionists, who rarely bring anything to fruition, I've gone with the principle that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. Meanwhile, I'm a medievalist at heart, and believe that we should return to the British custom of having Lady Day (March 25), as the New Year's Day (it's close enough to the vernal equinox). Hey, it worked for 600 years!


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>