A New Year: Full of Promise, Full of Hope
January. The beginning of a new journey for all. A time to make New Year Resolutions. In Britain it is often today referred to as 'dry January', nothing to with the weather but an attempt to cut back on drinking. Although it is California that takes the biscuit, or at least the prune, when attempting to row back on excessive Christmas feasting, designating the month as 'Dried Plum Digestive Health Month'.
The month itself is named after the Roman God of Doorways, the two faced Janus; for a door can be used to go into somewhere or to leave somewhere, thus leaving 2021 and entering 2022. Janus interestingly is from the same Latin root that gives us the modern word 'Janitor'. Originally a janitor was the person employed to keep watch at the door or the gate. A medieval equivalent perhaps of a bouncer.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in 'A Study in Scarlet', 'Among the many billets which I have filled in America during my wandering life, I was once janitor and sweeper out of the laboratory at York College.'
However, the Roman year actually began originally in the month of March, only changing to January sometime around mid 5th century BC.
The Saxons called January wulf-monath or wolf month, for this was the time of year when food was at its least available and human life hung by a thread. We still use the phrase, 'the wolf is at the door'. The full moon in January also carries a reference back to wolf month, as it is popularly called wolf moon.
TS Eliot captures, for me, the essence of winters past, in 'Journey of the Magi',
'A cold coming we had of it, just the worst of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp.
The very dead of winter.'
Today, with heated homes and warm clothes, and supermarkets stocked full of food, we do not face the privations of earlier centuries. Indeed in the early medieval period people gave their years in terms of the number of winters they had survived.
What kept people going was the hope of Spring around the corner; and even today we look out for the first snowdrop as the harbinger of better times to come, and we soon forget the holly, ivy, and mistletoe which only a matter of weeks ago delighted us so.
Walter de la Mare captured this hope for Spring in his poem, 'Why, then comes in....',
'Long-idling Spring may come
With such sweet suddenness
It's past the wit of man
His joy to express.'
So, it only remains for me to wish you and yours a happy and peaceful 2022.