January. I always thought the name had a cold, funereal sound. It implies a silence broken only by gusts of frigid, snow-laden winds crashing against windowpanes. The ever-pithy Anglo-Saxons referred to this lunar month as Æftera Geola “After Yule.” Can you not feel the void in that phrase? It is as if they are saying “reality bites, get on with it, and throw out that old, dried up Christmas tree before you burn the house down.” It is the killjoy month.
Nothing much happens in January. Christmas doesn’t end so much as absconds. I find myself hoarding special Christmas coffee from Trader Joe’s, wanting it to last. I struggle sometimes with SAD-like mopey-ness, as many people do, so Vitamin D and sunshine become essential combat tools.
The name January comes from the Roman two-faced god Janus, door and gatekeeper, looking into the past and ahead into the future. The symbolism is almost endless: a stone god standing on the cusp of a new year. A monument to loftier philosophies. I feel a few wry jokes coming.
“Janus, you two-faced jerk. It’s bright as summer out here but cold as Antarctica.”
“Janus, the snow is beautiful but I hate to drive in it.”
“I’m so cold but the space heater dries out my skin!”
“It’s all your fault, Janus. Quit blocking my way – I want to go back to December!”
I find juxtaposing of the two names – January and Æftera Geola – amusing. Say what you will about the longevity of Roman ideas and institutions (like roads, for example), there is something almost… unhelpful about the Roman way. As a kid all I could think about was that January rhymed with mortuary. Lofty ideas about resolutions, blank slates and the passage of time are easily forgotten in the midst of the big, shivering, snowy “After Yule.”
It intrigues me that a thing we’ve taken for granted – the calendar – was shaped not only by various lunar and solar cycles, but by the whims of Roman emperors who added in arbitrary and superficial days just because they could. July is named for Julius Caesar, after all. If you controlled the calendar, you controlled the world. You started the party. You sent every one home. You leave your name etched on the face of time.
Of course, I’m partial to the stark poetry of Anglo-Saxon words. I love the name for October, Winterfilleð, because it suggests “winter begins”, as opposed to “eighth month.” February will be Solmonað, “mud month.” Squish, squish. Sounds about right.
But I digress.
No matter how you slice January, it can be a rough time. But we must not lose sight of the hope a new year brings – new ideas and opportunities, and the time to explore them.
Isn’t deep winter a relief in some ways? A chance to rest? To turn over a new leaf? Christmas was merely the lesson in winter cheer. January is our chance to apply that cheer in ordinary time. January doesn’t have to be a killjoy.
Here are some of my live-joys for January:
- Adopting a new cat as roommate and creative consultant. (And making up cat names.)
- Practicing snow photography.
- Enjoying coffee-time in those dark afternoons.
- Mulling wine… because it shouldn’t be “just” a Christmas thing.
- Writing in a new journal.
- Morning and evening walks.
- Gathering friends together.