January facts, feasts, and folklore

Day 1. Following Edith Holden’s The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady.

In the first page dedicated for January, Edith Holden speaks of what she knows about the history of the name: January.

“This month received its name from the god Janus who had two faces looking in opposite directions, and Macrobius states that it was dedicated to him, because from its situation, it might be considered to be retrospective to the past and prospective to the opening year.”

Macrobius was a famous Roman writer. His full name was Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius. His most important piece of work was titled Saturnalia. It is a series of books in which the first is devoted to an inquiry as  to the origin of the Saturnalia and the festivals of Janus, which leads to a history and discussion of the Roman calendar, and to an attempt to derive all forms of worship from that of the Sun.

Sheldon explains Saturnalia:

The important – or ‘feast days’ – of January are then listed:

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day (In modern times it is a day dedicated to nursing hangovers and eating black-eyed peas.)
  • January 6th: Epiphany, Twelfth Day (I count it as the 13th day, but whatever.)
  • January 25th: Conversion of St. Paul (The day, apparently, that Jesus intersected the path to Damascus that ‘Saul’ was taking, blinded him, made him suffer for a while as he contemplated his life of being such a jerk to Christians, then accepted Saul’s ‘conversion’ by changing his name and giving him a new start on life.)

And now some pieces of old folklore known to Edith Holden in the early 1900s. By the way, the term “Janiveer” is an Old English dialect of saying “January,” and was used in poetry up until just a few decades ago. In other words, if you can’t get something to rhyme with “January,” then try using a different dialect; whatever is convenient. Here we go:


Freeze the pot upon the fire”

Okay this one doesn’t actually rhyme, but it still sounds fancy. (Try reading it with a British accent.) It means that January is supposed to be so cold that whatever is inside of a pot that is sitting on a fire will freeze. The fire, apparently, will not warm it back up. This goes without saying that the tidbit above refers to a pot on an outside fire or in a structure that’s not very well heated. Looking back on last Tuesday (January 7th) when 95% of the United States was insanely freaking cold, I can see how it would be a bit of a struggle to cook something about a century or so ago in the month of January. I mean, it was so cold last Tuesday that some states actually made it illegal to even go outside! That’s a dangerous kind of cold.

“If the grass do grow in Janiveer

it grows the worse for all the year.”

In regions where you should have snow or temperatures below freezing at least a few times each week during January, you should not have a spring growing season during this time. For example, if snow melts earlier, the vegetation will suck up the water right away and then dry out. This will leave a much longer dry spell for the summer and will dramatically increase the possibilities of wildfires and extreme droughts. So far in this respect, I think we’re good.

“A wet January

A wet spring.”

Once again, the month of January sets the tone for the weather in other seasons.

“The blackest month of the year,

Is the month of Janiveer.”

This could have a few different meanings. It could be that “blackest” actually means “darkest” due to the fact that the month of January has the least amount of daylight in it – even less than December where the Winter Solstice (the shortest day) takes place. The word “blackest” could be used in a morbid sense. Due to extreme cold, many people would die of either exposure or starvation. The saying could be referring to both the lack of daylight and the increase in deaths. Or, the saying could mean something else altogether of which I am not aware.

“As the day lengthens, so the cold strengthens.”

One reason for this is the water all over our planet. Water holds five times more heat than rock. And since 75% of the earth’s surface is water, the heat that is built up before the Winter Solstice in December keeps the planet warm until January when the heat is spent. Another reason we have colder temperatures in January is from snow. Snow reflects sunlight and cools the place down.

Well, that’s it for today. Until next time: stay warm.

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