The Annunciation: also Lady Day and New Year: by Fra Angelico, circa 1438Though our ancestors back in the 1300's probably didn't resolve to turn their abs into 6-packs at the beginning of every new year, new research indicates that they did make wishes and predictions at the new year, a tradition believed to have evolved into today's resolutions.
In her latest book, Magic and Religion In Medieval England, Dr. Catherine Rider explores some of the traditional western practices of the new year. The difficulty in collecting this information lies in the fact that most of the historical information about common practices has been filtered by the clergy, who recorded the traditions of the times (400 to 1,400 A.D.). Recorded information depended on whether the Church considered the practices superstitious or religious.
But according to Rider's research, we do know that our English medieval ancestors practiced certain customs to bring them good luck at the beginning of each year. One practice was to lay greenery around their homes. Another was for friends to exchange good luck gifts.
A second tradition was related to predictions for the year ahead. One, a blasphemy according to the Church, was the practice of throwing beans into a fire and 'reading' them depending on how they land. These readings became predictions for the coming year.
But apparently it was approved by the Church to use the Roman calendar to predict the weather. The day of the week that started the year, it was believed, indicated how the weather would be for the year. Incidentally, Tuesday, according to Rider's research, means we will have a wet winter.