January is nobody's favorite month. In most places the weather is cold and wet, and wherever it's otherwise, the streets are crowded with people escaping the cold and wet back home. Some fun.
An old poet romanticized: January brings the snow, Makes our feet and fingers glow.
But who's fooled by that? "Feet and fingers glow" indeed--it's freezing out there! Now, Shakespeare knew where it was at: That blasts of January Would blow you through and through.
And an anonymous old English rhymester knew even better: The blackest month in all the year Is the month of Janiveer.
Janiveer--or January, as most sober people call it--was named for Janus, who was a two-faced Roman god. Ianuarius, they called the month. Janus was one of the top gods in Rome, and he went all the way back to before there even was a Rome. Most historians think he was in charge of doorways and archways, because his name apparently meant "door." But a few scholars think he may have been a god of light, because the word may also have meant "bright one."
Anyway, Janus--if he really was god of doors--was the gatekeeper of heaven, sort of a celestial doorman. Every morning he opened the gates and let the morning out, which was a very good thing. At night, he closed the gates again, and God knows what went on in there.
Janus is usually drawn--he's never photographed--as a two-headed fellow, and sometimes he carries the number "300" in one hand and "65" in the other, for the days of the year. Except when he carries "CCC" and "LXV" instead, because he was a Roman and knew his Roman numerals. One of his heads faces front and one rear, which is appropriate because now calendar buffs can say, "See, he's looking back to the old year and forward to the new."
Actually, January wasn't always the first month of the year. In fact, there was a time when January wasn't anything at all. The earliest calendars--those of the Greeks and Egyptians and Jews--started later in the solar cycle, and so did the Roman calendar, which had just 10 months, from March through December. Midwinter was considered a "dead season," and so two months were stuck with no names for a while. Around 700 B.C. the Romans gave in and came up with January and February, which they tacked on after December.
More than 500 years later, New Year's Day, which had always been in March, was shifted to January. Rumor is, New Year's was supposed to have been put at the winter solstice, around Dec. 21, but that coincided with a big Roman drinking festval. The emperor figured one reason to get bombed was enough for a single time so he picked Jan. 1 instead.
Not everyone called January by its right name. The Saxons called it Aefter-yula, meaning after Christmas. They also sometimes called it Wulf-monath, or Wolf-monat, because when it was very cold and snowy, the wolves couldn't find much to eat, so they raided villages and snacked on humans.
According to an old belief, January is an unlucky month for monarchs, which makes some sense: In one January or another, Louis XVI, Napoleon III, Queen Victoria and King Victor Emmanuel all died. Also, King Charles I of England was beheaded on Jan. 27, 1649.
Others who died in January include Ovid, Lenin, Gandhi, Stephen Foster and the Roman historian Livy.
Plenty of big-names were born in January, too: Schubert and Mozart and Jerome Kern, Millard Fillmore and William McKinley and FDR and Richard Nixon, Paul Revere and Benedict Arnold and Robert E. Lee, Daniel Webster and Martin Luther King, Lord Bryon and Carl Sandburg and Edgar Allen Poe, Jack London and Zane Grey and W. Somerset Maugham, Lloyd George and Edmund Burke. Also General Tom Thumb, Cicero and Albert Schweitzer.
January has some nice annual events. There's Adults Day in Japan, a national holiday in honor of young people who have reached the age of maturity. There's the Blessing of the Animals at San Antonio Church in Mexico City. There's Chad National Independence Day. There's the Texas Citrus Fiesta and National Save the Pun Week, during which you're encouraged to let loose with your worst groaners. There's the Superbowl.
Sometimes there's Inauguration Day, but only once every four years.
In Hammerfest, Norway, there's the General Assembly of the Royal and Ancient Society of Polar Bears, whch is misnamed, because it isn't the bears that meet but their hunters. And in Muskegon, Mich., the National Snow Snurfing Championships are held. Snow Snurfing involves a surfboard-like contraption, steep hills and a lot of fear.
A lot of history happened in January, too. Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C. and said, "The die is cast." The Emancipation Proclamation took effect, America went dry with Prohibition, Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the League of Nations died and the United Nations was born. Alex Bell and Tom Watson made the first cross-country phone call, gold was discovered in California, the Brink's Robbery took place in Boston.
One of the lesser-known historical events of January happened Jan. 7, 1821. According to a newspaper of the time, the postmaster of Lismore, Ireland, a Mr. Huddy, won a bet by traveling from Lismore to Fermoy in an oyster--tub drawn by a pig, a badger, two cats, a goose and a hedgehog. Mr. Huddy, who made the trip wearing a large red nightcap and carrying a pig-driver's whip in one hand and a cow's horn in the other, was 97 at the time.
Oh, yes: Medical statistics show that January is the peak month for sore throats and upper respiratory infections. Happy month.