January is the bad-boy month of the year, the one so many people love to hate. Not me; like most romantic novelists, I’ve always had a weakness for a rake who’s just waiting for a brave, beautiful and probably poor heroine to come along and reform him. January too, I maintain, needs such a woman (moi?) who understands him and can persuade others to view him differently. With what is reputed to be the most depressing day of the year about to dawn (tomorrow—Blue Monday), what better time to do so?
Unfortunately when I announced to my tennis partner that I was writing my next blog in defence of January, her response was not encouraging. “Well, that will be a short one.”
It’s easy to see why so many people dislike January. It’s the coldest month of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and the hottest in the Southern. At the time of writing, you can take your pick; sweltering heatwaves and bushfires in Australia, or freezing temperatures, snowbound airports and treacherous roads in Europe. It was on 9 January 1799 that income tax was first introduced (a temporary measure, of course; in fact it’s still only temporary), and on 1 January 1931 that traffic police came into being. As if that were not enough, 31 January is the dreaded Self-Assessment day in the UK, by which date all the hard-working self-employed have to pay their largest tax bill of the year.
Cynics point out that the ancient Romans (them again) named January after the two-faced god Janus, and even today Janian or Janus-faced has the negative connotations of two-faced, hypocritical and deceitful.
‘You’ve got it all wrong!” I cry in defence of my poor misunderstood January. “He’s not like that at all.”
Take the Janus bit. Janus has two faces because he is the guardian of doors. He’s looking forward and looking back, and January is the month of the year when we have the time (and often the weather) to do exactly that. January gives us the space to reflect on the year gone past, and the year to come, before we plunge into the hurly-burly of the succeeding months which speed by all too thoughlessly. Janus is all about the spirit of opening. Without old Janus looking out for us, it might be difficult to open that door let alone step through it.
What else is there to praise about January? There’s the snow of course, which so often falls in January. Like the Japanese artists who used the light reflected from the snow to create their exquisite woodcuts, I love the snow! Think snowmen, and skiing, and hot chocolate, and the way snow can transform a grubby world. The birthstone for January is garnet, which represents constancy. It is in January that we usually see those first promises of spring – the yellow aconites with their green ruffs, and the delicate snowdrops.
Blue Monday often falls on St Agnes’s Eve (‘Ah! Bitter chill it was!’), the inspiration for Keats’s wonderful poem of the same name, and giving maids down the centuries the opportunity to dream of their future husbands. It is also the month in which so many creative people have been born, including Mozart, Robbie Burns (Burns Night is yet another reason to celebrate January), AA Milne and Louis Braille. Bye the bye, that’s another reason I like January; it just happens to be my birth month (us creative Aquarians), also that of my son.
Have I said enough to convince you to see January in a new (possibly snowy?) light? If so, fling open that door to the year ahead and step on through it. Janus is watching your back for you.