Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Two-Faced Month...that's January for you

Coca Cola Calendar 1901
For thirty-one days a year, every year, we date our letters and signatures with the word "January"-- most of us, I imagine, not giving it a second thought. But what exactly is a "January" other than the name we give the first month of our calendar year? What exactly is a "February" for that matter? I decided it was high time I stopped blindly and blithely writing the names next to mine without finding out what they meant.

Once you get to September, the months have quite mundane origins in that they only represent their numerical position on the original Roman calendar invented by King Romulus in 753 BC. Since that calendar began with March, September was the seventh month and comes from the Latin for "seven"-- septem. October was the eighth month (octo,) November the ninth (novem) and December, the tenth (decem.)  This first calendar did not take the winter months into consideration and so did not work very well. Who knows, maybe they thought if they just ignored them, they'd go away. Since that method didn't rid the world of winter but did cause undo confusion, King Numa Pompilius added two more months and January and February were born in 700 BC. 
Head of Janus, Vatican Museum, photo by By Loudon Dodd
(via Wikimedia Commons)

But what of the name January? That's where it gets more interesting and a lot more creative. January (or Januarias in the Roman style) is named for the Roman god, Janus. Janus, most often portrayed as having a face on both sides of his head--one looking forward and one looking backward--is the god of beginnings and endings. Quite appropriate for our first month of the year. Janus represents passages and transitions as well, both physical and psychological. He represents the passage from childhood to maturity, the dark of night to the light of day, the beginnings of life and the transitions to death. He is the god of gates and doorways and all they symbolize. When Rome was at war the gate to Janus's temple was open and when at peace the gate was closed. Janus is seen presiding over the beginning of marriages, planting, and harvests. So, as we tear open the cellophane wrappers on our brand new calendars, give a nod to our
Temple of Janus,1748, Giovanni Battista Piranesi
ancestors' acknowledgement of the symbolic importance of recognizing transitions and passages in our lives. That puts Janus in his place.

February? Well, I'll wait until next month to tell you about it but I'll give you a clue. Remember the song Fever made famous by Peggy Lee in the 1950s? Think about it.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


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