How Did the Month of January Get Its Name?
January is named after Janus, the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, change and transition. Janus was a very important figure in the Roman pantheon, whose role was akin to that of Lord Ganesha in Hinduism. He was the god who presided over the beginning of all undertakings, and his was the first name to be invoked in worship rituals. The season’s first offerings of wine and wheat were offered to him.
Idols of Janus depict him as having two heads looking in opposite directions symbolizing his mastery over change and his power to see both the past and the future. Thus January, the first month of the year, is aptly named after him. New Year’s Day was the principal festival dedicated to Janus. Ancient Romans celebrated the occasion by wearing festive garments and exchanging presents, consisting of sweetmeats, dried fruits, and copper coins bearing the images of Janus’s heads.
Ancient Roman observances during this month include Cervula, and Juvenalia; celebrated January 1, as well as one of three Agonalia, celebrated January 9, and Carmentalia, celebrated January 11. These dates do not correspond to the modern Gregorian calendar.
Would you believe January was not always the first month of the year? The ancient Romans used a different calendar system, and their year began in March and ended in February! Even though our modern system may be quite different from the ancient Romans’, they gave us something very important: the months’ names.
Pompilius added another month to the beginning of the year and named it January after Janus, the God of beginnings and endings. In 1582, Pope Gregory adjusted the calendar, so most western nations began celebrating the start of the year on January 1. This new calendar became known as the “Gregorian calendar.”
However, England and the American colonies continued to celebrate the new year on the date of the spring equinox in March. It was not until 1752 that the British and their colonies finally adopted the Gregorian calendar. However, today the name of Janus has come to acquire a meaning of duplicity (because of his two heads). A ‘Janus-faced’ person is a hypocrite whose actions do not match his words.
January is the first month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the first month to have the length of 31 days. The first day of the month is known as New Year’s Day. It is, on average, the coldest month of the year within most of the Northern Hemisphere (where it is the second month of winter) and the warmest month of the year within most of the Southern Hemisphere (where it is the second month of summer). In the Southern hemisphere, January is the seasonal equivalent of July in the Northern hemisphere and vice versa.