The name January comes from
the name of the Roman god Janus.
As the god of all beginnings,
Janus’ name comes from the latin word ianua meaning “door,”
and he was the god of doorways and thresholds,
imaged as a two-faced god
always looking both back at what had been
and ahead to what was yet to be.
Appropriate etymology then,
for the name of the first month of a new year.
The month January, wasn’t actually added
to the calendar until 700 BCE.
Before that, according to the ancient Roman lunar calendar,
the year was only ten months long
and included an unnamed winter season
following December and preceding March.
January is one of the youngest months.
But though added to the calendar in 700 BCE,
January didn’t become the first month of the year
until around 450 BCE
up until which point, March was still considered
the first month of the new year—
as it had been following that unnamed winter season
before the creation of January and February.
Practically speaking, in fact, the beginning of the year
continued to be marked administratively and bureaucratically
by the installation of the two roman consuls in March
(the consuls ruled the Republic of Rome, serving one year terms
in the time after the Roman kings and before the Roman emperors)
until in 153 BCE, as the story is told, in the Lusitanian war
when things weren’t going so well for the Romans.
When they needed new leadership and needed it quick,
they installed new consuls two and a half months early,
and January became the beginning of the year!
Even so, throughout the Middle Ages, in Europe,
January 1 was not favored over December 25 and March 25
when it came to the date on which to celebrate the new year.
In fact, in Britain and throughout the British Empire
(including the “colonies”),
March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation,
was celebrated as the first day of each new year
until the Gregorian calendar was officially accepted in 1752!
So may this month of January,
this liminal threshold time,
offer you time to both reflect on what has been,
and anticipate and plan for what is to be.
May time once not even given a name,
grant you undesignated time throughout the coming year.
May the naming of the unnamed
continue the process of bringing order into chaos
both in your living and in our world.
May this first month of the year
bless your transitions and beginnings
now and throughout this year.
And, as one of two months that were the last of the year
that became the first of the year,
may you begin this year with January’s reminder
of God’s topsy-turvy, inside out