January & The Roman Calendar

So here we are in the month of January, with our bells rung and pistols fired, and there are twenty-eight days still till February. January, the first month of the year in the Gregorian Calendar, is named after the Roman God Janus. The name Janus is however derived from the Etruscan word for door ‘Janna’. The two-headed God of Doorways, Gateways, and Journeys, Janus was capable of looking forward to the New Year and backward at the Old Year at the same time, and so well-represented a month when reflections of days gone and resolutions for days coming were uppermost in many minds.

Aside from its Roman appellation of Janarius, January was known as Wulfmonath (month of the Wolf) to the Saxons and had been dubbed Wintarmanoth (cold month) by Charlemagne. It is known as Ichigatsu (First Month) and the more traditional Mu Tsuki in Japanese, Janvier in French and Eanair in Irish.

January – and February – was not originally included in the Roman Calendar. Since winter was not a very productive time of the year, the Romans didn’t deem it necessary to include it as part of the calendar year. So their calendar only had ten months – Martius (March), Aprilis (April), Maius (May), Junius (June), Quintilis (July), Sextilis (August), and the last four, September, October, November, and December, with the same names. And unlike the present day system of having fixed days in a month, the Roman months were formed on the basis of what we now call as the Synodic month or the time frame between one new moon to the next. These ten months, excluding the unrecognized winter period, made up 304 days in a year.

It wasn’t until 700 B.C. that January and February found places on the calendar. Their inclusion was brought about by the second Roman Emperor Numa Pompilius (715-673 B.C.) and this brought the calendar upto par with the 354 days of a standard lunar year. However the Romans were a superstitious lot and had a major anathema against even numbers – so a day was added and the total calendar days became 355. In doing so, a leap-year day was tagged to February. This was called Intercalaris. The Romans considered March as the first month of the year, given its importance in agriculture – it was the month of renewal. However January was the month when the consuls to the Roman Senate were elected and this was of great political importance. So January became an important month and eventually, in 153 B.C., the Senate declared 1 January to be considered as the first day of the new year. January had 29 days until 46 B.C. – this was when Julius Caesar decided to update the calendar and this saw the removal of the Intercalaris and the addition of two more days to January. There were about 365 and 1/4 days in Julius’s Julian Calendar and the leap year came every four years. A major flaw with this calendar was that it had an error of one day shifting backwards every 128 years. By the sixteenth century this had led to the remarkable situation of the world running ten days ahead of schedule. Nobody wants to be that early and so a new calendar, the Gregorian, was devised by a Neapolitan doctor, Aloysius Lilius, and approved by Pope Gregory XIII on 24 February 1582. The Gregorian Calendar is what we currently use.

In a regular year – when there is no leap year – January has the same starting week day as October. In a leap year, it is the same week day as April and July.

The first day of January, as we all know, is known as New Year’s Day. This has special significance in different cultures. The Romans celebrated it as the Calends. The Christians came a bit late to it – only about 400 years ago – as the New Year celebrations were considered to be a pagan event by the Church and they wanted no part of it. Later, of course, the Church came around and Janus was christened and underwent metamorphosis to become Saint Januaris.

January is the month of the Coming of Age Day in Japan – this is a National celebration held on the second Monday of the month for all those who turn twenty in the New Year.

The astrological zodiac signs of Capricorn (December 22-January 19) and Aquarius (January 20-February 18) have traditionally come within the month of January. In actual astronomical fact, the sun passes between the signs of Capricorn and Sagittarius.

The Snowdrop is traditionally considered to be the flower for January, and the birthstone for the month is the garnet.