Skip Navigation

The History of New Year's Resolutions

Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune. Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another “good luck” vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day. 

The tradition of using a baby to signify the new year was begun in Greece around 600 BC. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. Early Egyptians also used a baby as a symbol of rebirth.

Although the early Christians denounced the practice as pagan, the popularity of the baby as a symbol of rebirth forced the Church to reevaluate its position. The Church finally allowed its members to celebrate the new year with a baby, which was to symbolize the birth of the baby Jesus.

The use of an image of a baby with a New Years banner as a symbolic representation of the new year was brought to early America by the Germans. They had used the effigy since the fourteenth century.


The popular Tournament of Roses Parade held on this day in Pasadena, CA, was started in 1886 by the Valley Hunt Club, whose members decorated their carriages with flowers, creating what was meant to be ” an artistic celebration of the ripening of the oranges in California”. In the afternoon athletic events were held. The city of Pasadena later relieved the club of sponsorship of the parade, and the city was in turn succeeded by the Tournament of Roses Association, which till date directs the activities. Gradually the flower-decked carriages gave way to floats that by parade rules can be covered only with fresh flowers. Yet another annual attraction, the Rose Bowl football game, became part of the festivities in 1902.

The traditional and spectacular Mummers’ Parade of Philadelphia owes its origin to the Christmas celebrations of the Swedes and the Englishmen who settled along the Delaware River.  The masked revelers among the Swedes saw to it that the festivities of the Christmas season lasted until the New Year. The English brought with them their ancient practice of mumming. This, in America , took the form of groups of men presenting costumed plays, going from house to house reciting their parts in expectation of money or some of the Christmas fare. It was since then the parade has been divided into three main sections: the fancy-dress division, the clown division, and the string bands.