Skip to Content

Janus & the First New Year Resolutions

The image of Father Time handing his hourglass and sickle over to Young New Year is long embedded in western culture. In this postcard from 1910, Father Time looks happy and energetic as he advises his protégé on the year ahead.

A fresh new year offers everyone the endless possibilities of positive change and new beginnings. A time to set goals, generally referred to as Resolutions. Forty-five percent of Americans made New Year Resolutions in 2015; about 8 percent succeeded. Perhaps the others resolved to try again this year.


No matter. The point is that each year we can review the year completed and decide what to hope for from the new beginning before us. We can thank the Roman god Janus who presided over new beginnings as well as endings for our annual opportunity to start fresh. In ancient Rome, Janus was found in doorways. Because every door looked in two directions, Janus needed to see both forward and backward. He is, in that sense, two-faced.

Initially one face was unshaven, the other bearded – not unlike the New Year Baby and Father Time.

Romans believed it was important to follow proper procedure for new beginnings. Ever wondered why the bridegroom carried his bride over the threshold? One reason was to avoid the bad luck that would occur if she tripped or fell as she entered her new home.

It was especially important to please Janus at the beginning of a new year so that prosperity would flow. People decorated their houses with evergreens, made offerings, dressed festively and extended best wishes and the good gifts of dates and figs to everyone they met. Dates and figs predicted sweet things to come. The custom of New Year’s gifts persisted into the Middle Ages.

Do you think New Year’s Resolutions are a descendent of those early efforts to please Janus? What have you resolved to do in 2016? I resolved to be on my yoga mat five days a week, complete the research for my next book, and keep letting people know that Rama’s Labyrinth is available on Amazon.

No matter what, if anything, you resolved to do or be in 2016,

I wish you good health, abundant life, and joy in every day of this new year.

Featured Image: 1910 Postcard. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons


Sculptured Head of Janus. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

Around the Web:

“Janus, Roman God.” Encyclopedia Britannica.

“New Years Resolution Statistics.” Research Date Dec. 27, 2015. Statistic Brain.

Annelida Stephan. “Lessons from the Romans.” The Getty Iris. Dec. 30, 2012

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


  1. I always enjoy learning new things about holidays and traditions. As a rule I don’t make resolutions, but I am determined to write more regularly for my blog this year. And I bought Rama’s Labyrinth, so it’s on my to read list! Happy New Year Sandra. I hope it’s a great one!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Susan. I tend to think of resolutions as goals myself. I hope you enjoy Rama’s Labyrinth. let me know what you think.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.