The Month of January
The Romans originally had ten months in the year, January was not among them. It was not until Numa Pompilius, a Roman king, in 700 B.C. revised the calendar that January came into existence. The month was called Inauarius or Januarius. The month was named for Janus whose festival was held in this month. Janus was said to have two faces so he could see behind him as well as ahead. The face looking back was mature and bearded, the forward looking face was youthful and hopeful. Because of his ability to see both ways he was named the God of gates and doorways, beginnings and endings. It seemed an appropriate month to begin the new year.
The month originally had 29 days, but when Julius Caesar revised the calendar near the dawn of the first millennium (46 B.C.), he gave it 31 days, a number it has had ever since. Our name for the month comes to us through the French language. Januarie replaced the Old English, geola se æfterra, which means "later yule".
New Years Day the primary holiday of January is also the oldest surviving holiday in the calendar. It has been celebrated since before 4000 B.C. when it is known that the Babylonians revelled in the coming of spring. At that time the new year was placed about the time of the vernal equinox. It was moved by the Romans to January 1 (in 153 B.C.) far closer to the winter solstice. In Medieval times it reverted to April 1st, but was switched back by Gregory XIII when he reformed the calendar. It has long been associated with the tradition of taking on a resolution, changing ones life in some small or large way.
Martin Luther King Day became a holiday in the United States in 1983. The famous civil rights leader had his birthday on the 15th of January, but Congress decided on the third Monday in January as a way to create a three-day holiday.
The birthstone for January is the garnet. There is a web-zine called January Magazine that reports on literary matters. There was also a movie made called The January Man about a modern Sherlock Holmes type who hunts down a serial killer. It is a comedy-mystery staring Kevin Kline et al. It came out to mixed reviews in 2002.
In spite of the new beginnings theme so redolent in New Years Day, in film and literature January is generally depicted as a cold and unforgiving period when the elements are oppressive and life is sterile. Failed resolutions are a common topic of conversation. However, the month does have its up side. For American football fans, there are the play-offs. Newly elected presidents are inaugurated, winter sports are popular, skiing and sledding. If you really hate winter in the North, there is always the sunny contemplation of a move to New Zealand or Australia.
Next Page: The Month of February