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01/03/2006 Archived Entry: "January"
January is named in honour of the two-faced pagan deity, Janus, who was believed to be gatekeeper of the home of the gods, the equivalent of what became the Christian idea of heaven and, because he faced two ways, he was able to look backwards and forwards at the same time. Like Janus, we can look back to the past to gain experience while looking forward in hope for the future.
The intercession of Janus was also sought by those who were starting new enterprises; in addition to his gatekeeping duties, he was considered the god of new beginnings. In ancient pagan Rome, the start of any new day, month or year was dedicated to Janus rather than any of the many other gods, and on January 9, there was a huge festival in his honour with feasting and dancing.
In pre-Christian Rome, therefore, all gates, doorways and other entrances, whether in private houses or public buildings, including the gates of the city, were considered to be under his protection. One odd name for him was Consivius which meant "the sower" and under this guise, he was worshipped by farmers and landowners because his intercession was always sought at the beginning of any new farming or agricultural enterprise.
Some theories suggest that the god Janus was really based on a human person, an ancient king of Latium, and for that reason it was possible to produce several visual images. Apart from his distinctive two faces, something a human would not normally possess, Janus is often depicted as a heavily bearded man, generally carrying in his hands either a staff or a set of keys.
Apparently, some images show him without a beard, and in some instances where he does not hold either the staff or keys, the fingers on his right hand will show the number 300, written in the Roman form of CCC. Similarly, the fingers of his left hand will show the number 65 (LXV), the total coming to 365, the number of days in a year.
In pre-Christian Rome, there was a temple dedicated to Janus and probably founded by Romulus, the double barbican gate of which was kept open during times of war, but closed in peacetime. It was said to have been shut only four times before the Christian era but it seems the reason for leaving the gates open during wartime was to enable the city's armies to come and go without hindrance whenever they were speedily needed. The open gate, under the protection of Janus, was also said to ensure good fortune. Indeed, some archways and gates were later named Janus.
Although January is the first month of our year, it was not always so. An early Roman calendar, from which ours is derived, was based on an even more ancient Greek system. The start of a year in that Greek calendar was in what we could call June, ie, upon the new moon nearest the summer solstice. The months were all named after Greek gods and later the Greeks adapted an Egyptian system.
The very ancient Egyptian and Greek calendars each had twelve months, always with the intractable problem of dividing the year into a number of precise days. When the Romans produced one of their early calendars, they also named the months after their own gods, and so their months were Martius, Aprilis, Maius,
Iunius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, December, Ianuarius and Februarius. Of these, Martius, Maius, Quintilis and October each had 31 days, with the others having 29 except for Februarius which had 28.
Ianuarius and Februarius were tagged onto the end of an earlier Roman year which consisted of ten months - and all this was long before the Christian era. Problems of calculating the exact length of a year caused immense problems, not only in the European calendars but also across the known world and it seems that the Romans eventually settled on March 1 as the beginning of their year. In BC 713, the Roman emperor Numa instituted a feast day on the first day of January (Ianuarius) in honour of Janus and so from that time January 1 was considered the start of their year.
In this country, our official year began on March 25 which was Lady Day. The continuing world-wide problems in calculating the length of a year down to the nearest minute prompted Pope Gregory XIII to examine the calendar in depth. As a result, in 1582 he produced the calendar which we still use. Here in England, being a newly Protestant country, his changes were regarded as some kind of Catholic plot and so this country refused to accept his calendar. Eventually, however, it was adopted in 1752 when January 1 became the legal start of our new year.