WHAT JANUARY IS ALL ABOUT
Ah, January, the first month of the year, and the coldest in the Northern Hemisphere! Those of us who hail from the northern regions of North America can certainly identify with the image of a bleak, snow-swamped landscape. Fortunately in San Miguel de Allende, January is nothing close to that, although it is the coldest month even here. We feel the chill when the sun goes down, but in the middle of the day we can usually get by with short sleeves. That, for someone from the Midwest, is darn good!
You may not know this, but January did not exist until the year 45 CE, when Julius Caesar added it to the calendar, along with February. Before this, the first two months of the year were simply referred to as “dead period” since no government or military activities took place in the Roman Empire during this time, because—you guessed it—it was too cold. It is, for most cultures, a time for beginnings and for many it means making resolutions; which inevitably are broken by the time February comes around. You know what they say about resolutions—they go in one year, and out the other!
So let’s move on to some facts about January. The name comes from Janus, the Roman god who represented beginnings and endings, as well as doorways, gates, and transitions. He is shown with two faces looking in opposite directions—backwards to the past, forward toward the future.
The American writer, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) described it poetically:
Janus am I; oldest of potentates.
Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.
Before January was named January, it had various names around the world. The Anglo-Saxons called it Wulfmonath, which means quite appropriately “the month of the hungry wolf.” Slavic languages have colorful names for the months of the year, relating them to natural phenomena. The word for January in Ukrainian, which happens to be my ethnic origin and mother tongue, is sichen which means slashed or hacked to pieces. An earlier name was prosynets, which means awakening, and could very well refer to the start of the year. The Chechs call it leden, icy or covered by ice; and the Belarus name for the month is studzejn—frozen. The ancient Macedonian name for January was kolozeg, which means “the month of burning tree trunks.” Not a bad idea to ward off hungry wolves!
January is a month of extremes, the fact that it is at the forefront of a new year is only part of this. Weather-wise, it is the coldest month in the Northern Hemisphere, and the hottest month in the Southern Hemisphere.
January’s birthstone is the garnet. It is a rare gem that comes in many colors, however, the most popular and expensive garnets are a deep shade of red. The word garnet is derived from the Middle
English word, gernet, which means dark red. It is also part of the root of the name for the red, seed-filled fruit, the pomegranate.
The flower for January is the carnation, which comes in a variety of lovely colors, and is one of the longest lasting bouquets. Now you know the gift options for your loved one born in January—an inexpensive posy of carnations, or a pricy garnet bauble.
A sad fact about January is that it appears to be the most common month for couples to break up. In fact, it has been nicknamed “divorce month” by lawyers. So even if your partner was not born in January, it may not be a bad idea to give him or her a garnet, or at least a carnation, for no other reason that it is “that month”!