What is your unusual New Years resolution

The Germans and their good intentions

You could pick any day of the year to tweak a few things in your life and change things. Traditionally, this project focuses on the turn of the year, which is apparently an ideal time for a selective restart.

Spending more time with the family, eating healthier, doing more sport, saving money: The most common New Year's resolutions of Germans can probably be found on the lists of all other countries in the western hemisphere. And just like in other corners of the world, the resolutions of the Germans are not dissimilar to astrology: It's more about an interpretation, and everyone can have a say, because everyone certainly has an opinion on the topic.

It is part of tradition to break one's resolutions

The requests to speak are often interspersed with sarcasm. Of course, some people take their own list very seriously, but the rest of them know that resolutions are folklore, and it is a tradition to throw them overboard within a few weeks or even days. They seldom extend beyond January.

The goals are set very high, the bar is insurmountable. After all, you forge resolutions after days of gluttony: overfed with all the Christmas dinners, drank too much, and not to mention the sweet stuff. So there are enough arguments to make a final decision to fight the beer belly with jogging and to go without fat sausage for a while.

Everyone knows how unhealthy cigarettes are, which is why smoking will end for good in 2019. Definitely. Maybe.

To start a new life in certain parts at the start of a new year is historically based. The Babylonians made the start, as evidenced by their New Year celebrations documented 4,000 years ago. During their twelve-day festival, they promised the gods that they would return all loans and pay off their debts. The beginning of a new year was still in the middle of March. In some calendars, such as the Persian one, this is still the case.

Our ancestors were under more pressure

Historians see these vows as the forerunners of our present-day resolutions, even though the Babylonians were under significantly greater pressure to keep their word: If they did not keep it, the gods threatened to turn their back on them.

The Romans later set January 1st as the beginning of the New Year, named after the Roman god Janus, a deity with two faces: one symbolically looks back into the past, the other into the future. As a New Year's ritual, Janus traditionally received offerings - and people took their oaths.

The latter changed over the centuries, in the Middle Ages knights took the "peacock vow" to renew their knightly oath - and then to plaster the animal. The phrase "New Year's Resolutions" first appeared in a Boston newspaper in 1813. Since then, we have received more or less helpful tips every year on how we can best keep our resolutions.

An oath on the peacock, and then down with it: the painting "Codex Manesse" from 1310

If there is a specific German facet of the intentions, then it is probably the word itself: "Vor-s├Ątze", which literally means: "before the sentences". Is this where the final hint on how to properly deal with the project is slumbering? Don't babble too much about your resolutions, just think about them, do it and see what happens? If that works, thank the German etymology.

If not, at least you don't have to explain to anyone why you are smoking again after spending so much time telling everyone to quit in 2020. But really. Most certainly. Definitely.

You can find even more content about Germans and their traditions, their everyday culture and language on YouTube and our website www.dw.com/MeettheGermans_de.