Jumping into January

January is the first month of the year in the Gregorian and Julian calendars and has a length of 31 days.

January and February did not exist in the earlier Roman calendar, both months being added by Numa Pompilius (the legendary second king of Rome, coming after Romulus) around 700 BCE/BC. Pompilius wanted to make the calendar equal to the standard lunar year of 365 days. (Note. The Julian calendar,  introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE/BC replaced/refined the Roman calendar.)

In the northern hemisphere January is the second month of winter and is generally the coldest of all the months. In the southern hemisphere, January is the second month of summer and the seasonal equivalent of July in the northern hemisphere.

The Roman name for the month was Januarius, named after the two-faced  god, Janus, who had two faces and was able to look backwards at the old year and forwards into the new one.

Head of Janus, Vatican Museum, Rome. Author: Loudon dodd, Creative Commons

Janus also kept the gate of Heaven, so he became known the god of doors and gates. This is generally stretched to include beginnings, transitions, time, passages, and endings – all of which are fitting for a god of the first month of the year.

The Anglo Saxon name for January was Wulf monath. It was given that name because wolves often came into the villages in search of food in January, the heart of winter. Not surprisingly, the first full moon of the year is named after howling wolves and as such is known as Wulf Moon.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In other cultures this first full moon of the year was known as Ice Moon, Snow Moon, Old Moon and the Moon after Yule.

In 2018 the full moon will be on the night between 1 and 2 January and is another supermoon to look out for. There is also another full moon in January (also a supermoon), near to the end. As the second full moon of the month, with no given name, it is known as a Blue Moon. In 2018 this will be on January 31. In some areas it will look red due to the total lunar eclipse it causes – thus making it a blood moon. So we will have a Blue, Supermoon, Blood Moon to look forward to.

Enough about the moon. Let’s move on…

The birthstone for January is the garnet, a word that comes comes from the 14th century Middle English word gernet – which means meaning dark red.

A small sample of garnet. Author: Teravolt (talk). Creative Commons

The zodiac signs for January are Capricorn until January 19th and Aquarius from the 20th onwards.

The birthflower for January are the Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation) and the Galanthus (snowdrop).

There are many customs and traditions connected to January around the world and many of them start with New Year’s Eve and resolutions. I wrote a post about New Year’s Eve last year (Ring in the New Year!). I have also  previously written posts about a couple of other January traditions. One was about Wassailing and Twelfth Night on January 5-6 and the other about Burn’s Night on January 25th. So on this occasion, I’ll leave those three alone. But here are a few more:

  1. The start of January does not seem to have been at all favoured in the past. In medieval times, good fortune for the coming year depended upon events on January 1st. To find out if they would have good luck, or not, farmers would put a flat cake on one of the horns of a cow. The farmer and his workers would sing and dance around the cow until the cake was thrown off. If it fell in front of the cow, it signified good luck. If it fell behind the cow, they would have bad luck during the coming year. To the earlier Saxons, January 2nd was the unluckiest day of the year and anyone born on that day could expect an unpleasant death.
  2. January 7th, the day after the feast of the Epiphany (and Twelfth Night), was known by different names by men and women of the past. To women, the day was Distaff Day or sometimes, Roc Day. The distaff, or rock, was used in spinning and was the medieval symbol of women’s work. In many European cultural traditions, women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas – and in Catholic countries today, Distaff Day is still one of the unofficial holidays. To men who lived and worked in the countryside, January 7 was known as Plough Day – the day they would return to work in the fields.
  3. January 13th was the day of St Hilary’s Feast (St Hilary lived AD 310 – c. 367):

    The ordination of Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the 14th century, Author: Richard de Montbaston et coolaborateurs. Public Domain

This day became known as the coldest day of the year due to particularly cold events of the past starting on, or around, that date. One of the most severe winters known began around January 13 1205. In Britain, the River Thames froze over and ale and wine turned to solid ice and needed to be sold by weight! This big freeze lasted until March 22nd. Farmers in England were unable to till the ground and sow their crops. Consequently, food prices soared that year.

4. January, in general, has become known as the coldest month of the year. One of the worst cold spells in Britain was between 1550 and 1750 – a period that became known as the Little Ice Age. Winters were so cold that the Thames froze over each year, often for three months at a time. During that time the Thames was wider and slower than it is now, and its flow was further obstructed by the medieval Old London Bridge. The Thames  froze over several times in the 16th century. In 1536, Henry VIII is said to have travelled from London to Greenwich by sleigh along the Thames, and in 1564, Elizabeth I took walks on the ice. But the first frost fair was recorded as being held on the Thames in London in 1608. Tents, side shows and food stalls were set up  and even ice bowling took place.

A page from ‘The Great Frost: cold doings in London’. Printed in London in 1608. Attributed to Thomas Dekker. Public Domain

The last frost fair was held in 1814, beginning on February 1st and lasting for four days. An elephant was led across the river below Black friar’s Bridge.

5. January 20th is the Eve of St Agnes. This was traditionally the night when girls and unmarried women would perform certain rituals before going to bed in order to dream of their future husbands. The rituals seem quite peculiar and laughable to us today, but such rituals were performed in all seriousness, and in the belief that they would work. One ritual involved transferring pins one at a time from a pincushion to a sleeve whilst reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Another involved walking backwards upstairs to bed and another was fasting all day. Yet another tradition was to eat a portion of dumb cake (a salty cake prepared with friends in silence) before going to bed. The Eve of St Agnes was also the subject of a poem by Keats.

St Agnes herself is the patron saint of girls, engaged couples, rape survivors, virgins and the Children of Mary. This is what Wikipedia tells us about her:

Saint Agnes of Rome was a member of the Roman nobility born in AD 291 and raised in an Early Catholic family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian on 21 January AD 304. Agnes was a beautiful young girl of wealthy family and therefore had many suitors of high rank. Details of her story are unreliable, but legend holds that the young men, slighted by her resolute devotion to religious purity, submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of Christianity.  

Accounts of her execution are steeped in legend and cannot be proven true, but archaeological evidence indicates that a young girl of about thirteen years of age, a virgin named Agnes, was martyred in Rome and honoured for her sacrifice.

Saint Agnes, circa 1620. Artist: Domenichino. Oil on canvas. Now in The Royal Collection, Windsor Castle. Source: Web Gallery of Art. Public Domain

This post is long enough, so I won’t include famous anniversaries but here are just a few famous birthdays for the month:

  • January 3, 1892. J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) Tolkien was an academic and writer, and a professor of English language and literature at Oxford University. He is now famously remembered as creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien, aged 24, in army uniform. Photo taken in 1916. Public Domain

  • January 13, 1926Michael Bond. A Newbury-born BBC cameraman, better known as the creator of Paddington Bear, a little bear bear found at Paddington Station in London, wearing a sou’wester, wellington boots and a duffle coat.

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station, 3rd May, 2007. Author: Stefan Oemisch. Creative Commons

  • January 15, 1929Martin Luther King, an American clergyman and leading civil-rights campaigner and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking against the Vietnam War at St Paul’s Campus, University of Minnesota. 22 April, 1967. Author: Minnesota Historical Society Creative Commons

  • January 18, 1736James Watt. A Scottish engineer and inventor, whose improvements to Newcomen’s steam-engine helped to power the factories of his partner Mathew Boulton, and ultimately the industrial revolution.

James Watt by John Partridge, after Sir William Beechley. 31 December 1806. Author: Antonia Reeve. Public Domain

January 24, AD 76. The Roman emperor, Hadrian, who visited Britain c A.D. 121 and ordered the building of the 73 mile Hadrian’s Wall from the Solway Firth to the Tyne to keep out the Scots.

To finish with this is a photo of some early flowering snowdrops at the front of our house. They have been in bud for a few days now.

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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34 Responses to Jumping into January

  1. Anand says:

    This post has wonderful wealth of information–a well researched article. I had a great time going through it. Once in a blue Moon phrase makes more sense now. I just saw Wulf Moon on my roof before going through the post. Thanks for sharing this and have a great year ahead!

    Anand

  2. leggypeggy says:

    Wow, what a comprehensive post. Glad you mentioned the full moon. It was so huge and so intense last night that it woke me up.

  3. draliman says:

    I’m afraid the start of January isn’t favoured by me either 🙂 Or the rest of January. Or February either, come to that. And the less said about March the better.
    Anyway, all the best to you and your family for 2018!

    • milliethom says:

      January isn’t a popular month with many people, although that’s probably due to the shock of returning to work after Christmas (and having spent too much money!). I like March because things start to look much brighter, especially once the clocks go forward and days get longer. Have a great 2918, Ali. Write lots of your hilarious stories and enjoy your fabulous Cornish landscape. 🙂

  4. Norma says:

    Thanks for the post Millie. I loved the moon section. Wulf moon reminds me of those horror movies. The super moon is exciting to watch. Last year I had watched and I didn’t even realize that it was a supermoon, although I kept thinking that it looked a bit different than usual. 😉
    Wishing you and your family a great year filled with love, laughter, prosperity, happiness and good health, Millie. A Very Happy New Year! Cheers to 2018! 😀

    • milliethom says:

      What a lovely comment, Norma, and I wish you the same as you have wished me for 2018. Last year was a very difficult one for us. as a family, with so many serious medical problems to face. My blog and my writing have been seriously neglected, but I hope to be back to normal before too long. I’m now working hard to finish Book 3 of my Viking trilogy, and after that I intend to come back to WordPress with bang! Love and best wishes to you and your family. ❤ 😀

  5. Such wonderful research well recorded

  6. doodletllc says:

    How fun to read. So Here’s to a Brand Spanking New Year with cold, dark and brutally long January at the Helm. Happy New Year, MIllie! I’m sure Magic awaits.

  7. Thank you, Milly, for this interesting piece of information on January. I’m going to remember the 31and keep an eye open for the moon. I’m looking forward to Feb – the month of my birthday. I hope you’ll have a wonderful 2018 and time to do your writing that you enjoy so much.

    • milliethom says:

      Hello, Ineke. It’s such a long time since we chatted. I hope you and your family are well and that you are still writing your stories. I hope to be back to blogging regularly in a few months’ time. Last year was a ‘write off’ for me. We had so many serious family health issues to deal with that everything else was put on hold. I hardly looked at my writing – but so far, this year has taken on a positive look and I’m pushing on with it. I hope to have Book 3 published in the spring, May at the latest. Are you still working? I know you love your job with the little ones. 🙂 Hope your 2018 will bring you much happiness and that we can still be in touch. ❤

      • I also want to wish you a happy 2018. I am still writing. My first part of my Memoirs is nearly ready to be published. I am doing it through Create Space – print on demand! I’ve been studying How to… courses and I’m learning a lot. Sorry to hear about all the health issues, I hope 2018 is going to be a better year. Also good to hear about book three. I am still working(on holiday till 1 Feb) and have not much time to blog. I have to force myself to put something on. I’ll see how this year goes. I’m enjoying my grandchild. So glad I’m here in NZ. I think and wonder a lot about you. We still are friends although not in writing but in the mind. Warmly!

  8. Now what do I do with those pins on Jan 20th 😄.
    Great post full of interesting information.
    Happy New Year Millie 🙋🏼

  9. Annika Perry says:

    Millie, this is a wonderful, fact-filled post!! Absolutely fascinating and I loved learning about January and all the traditions surrounding the month, how it came to its name. The full moon on the 1st was astonishing and kept me wide awake all night – incredibly bright outside with a spooky eerie atmosphere.

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks Annika. Every month has so many traditions attached to it and I could probably do a ‘second run’ of the whole year. The Wulf Moon was amazing, wasn’t it? It was a very clear and cloudless night, of course, and I suppose a cloudy night would seriously spoil things! Hope things are going well with your short story book. Once I’ve finished the third book of my trilogy, I intend to read it. 😀

  10. Hi Millie! I hope this comment, unlike my earlier one, will actually get uploaded to your post. I really enjoyed the post and all the information you provided. I look forward to the blue, super, red moon later this month! And I did note the Wulf Moon. Although I do Viking studies, I also do Anglo-Saxon research and reading too. Of course there are a lot of intertwinings!
    Speaking of the Mini Ice Age, I think we are having one right here in Ohio, USA! Sub-zero F. temperatures and really bad snow and ice storms. A medieval reeanactment event I was supposed to teach at yesterday was cancelled because of frigid temperatures and bad road conditions. The one I taught at the week before greeted me with -3 degrees F. on my arrival at the site!
    I am having trouble signing up for your email, which I apparently dropped off of inadvertantly, and I don’t usually use the Reader. I’ll try again.
    I do want to stay in touch with you! You commented on my December 23rd post “Trying Times,” to which I just now replied, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say how lovely it is to find you again. I hope that you are doing well and staying warm! ❤ –Timi

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Timi! As always, I’m really pleased to hear from you and agree, we shouldn’t lose contact with each other. Unfortunately, I’m so rarely on my blog these days as I’ rushing to finish the last parts of my book. I’ve been posting once or twice a month at most and do miss writing posts and connecting with people. I lost touch with so many last year, including you.
      I sympathise with you regarding the temperatures in Ohio! It’s mild here by comparison. Sub zero temps. and me don’t see eye to eye, I’m afraid. Take care when you’re out when it’s icy. I’ll aim to visit your blog tomorrow. It’s almost bedtime and sleep is calling.
      Thank you for your lovely comment – which considerably brightened a very cloudy and miserable Sunday. ❤

      • It’s so wonderful to hear from you, Millie! And I’m very gratified to hear that you are busy finishing your book. Btw, I just got the Kindle & Android edition of your short story book–I look forward to reading it in the interstices between arriving at appointments and actually seeing the doctor, physical therapist, or lawyer! 🙂

  11. milliethom says:

    I’ve just read some of your recent posts, Timi, and am happy to know your life is still as full and eventful as ever. Your many group activities are wonderful and your teaching must be very fulfilling.
    😀 I miss teaching a lot, but at my age, it’s time to focus on other things – like my books!
    Thank you for buying my little book, A Dash of Flash. I won’t say anything more about it and leave you to decide whether the stories appeal or not. But I will agree, the short length of most of them make them ideal reading for waiting in doctors’ surgeries and such like. I hope each of those appointments result in a favourable outcome! 😀

  12. MG WELLS says:

    An excellent, informative post about January, Millie. It’s so cold where I live in US, I cannot feel my feet ;O) I do wish you have the time to finish your 3rd book and look forward to it. Thanks so much for sharing a wonderful post and wishing you and your family a healthy, prosperous 2018.

  13. milliethom says:

    Hi MG. Thank you for the lovely comment and I’m glad you liked the post. New York is known for it’s cold winters, and many people here envy your many white Christmases,We get very few of those. But being so cold is not for me. I’m totally nesh and like to be warm. I hope you find some way of keeping warm. Having cold feet is not nice at all.
    Winter’s a good time for writing, though. I’m not tempted to get outside and manage to concentrate better on my book. I hope 2018 is a good one for you, and wish you health and happiness. ❤

  14. Antonia says:

    I love this post Millie, how interesting! My favorite is learning about Wulf monath. Happy New Year and I hope you had a wonderful holiday season! 😀

  15. Hey, Millie. How are you. It’s been sooo long…
    Lovely post. I had no idea there was so much history behind the month of January. Thanks fro sharing all the info.
    Hopw you’ve been doing well 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Heena. Yes, it seems ages since we chatted regularly on our blogs. I do so few posts nowadays. Family matters since early last year have taken most of my time, and everything else has been almost neglected. I’ve tried to do at least one blog post a month, just to keep it going – and that one post tends to be about the months. I started last May, so I only have 3 more to do to finish the year! We’re hoping 2018 will be a better one for us.
      I hope you are well, too, and still writing your books. Love and best wishes. Millie. 😀

  16. Forestwood says:

    You do a wonderful job of keeping alive the knowledge of traditions amongst all of us! Happy new Year… can I still say that in January? It has been a tough few months so I hope your festive winter season was much much better!

  17. milliethom says:

    Happy New Year to you, too, Amanda! Thank you for reading my one post of 2018. I don’t know how many more I’ll get done this year, but I need to keep my ‘Month by Month’ posts going until I get to April. I’d hate to leave the year incomplete.
    I’d like to forget that last year ever happened – it was a difficult one all round for my family. The first couple of months this year have been a little better, thank goodness.
    I hope you are keeping well and coping with your Australian summer. I know you hate the heat. But Autumn’s on the way for you now and spring is around the corner for us. Spring and autumn are always good.
    I’ll try to pop over to your blog sometime this week.

  18. I don’t know how I missed this before…brilliant, as usual!

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks Mike. I’ve now done a grand total of two posts since New Year, so it’s hardly surprising you missed this one. I’m afraid my blog has been ignored for ages – but ‘Normal service will be resumed’ as soon as I’ve finished the third book in my trilogy, which should be in a couple of months.

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