In Ancient Rome, January was a month of new beginnings, just as it is for us now. January was named after the god Janus – god of change and new beginnings in ancient mythology. Janus is represented by the image of a two-faced god, looking back at the past and facing the future at the same time. The image is also often taken to represent deceit or being “two-faced”.
Some commentators believe that January – Ianuarius in Latin – was actually one of the last months of the year, along with February.
The earliest Roman calendar is supposed to have been the handiwork of Romulus – one of the founders of Rome – and pre-dates Christianity. The year began in March – making January the penultimate month of the year. The year also only consisted of 304 days comprising ten months.
The second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, is said to have extended it by two months to 354 days – further calculations and reductions in the length of each month left just 56 days to divvy up between January and February.
Ancient Romans used to consider even numbers unlucky, so January was given 31 days, with an extra one added. February was left with an even number of days. February is dedicated to the infernal gods and is the month of purification. An infernal god literally lives in an inferno – what is seen as “hell” or “damnation” – so the Romans thought that leaving February with an even but unlucky number of days was appropriate.
It is clear to see that Ancient Romans were very adept at changing things to suit their beliefs – and justifying other things that might not reflect a belief!
The calendar was tinkered with by various rulers until Julius Caesar got his hands on it in 46 BC – and alternated months with 31 days with those having 30 days, leaving February with 28 days, except for a Leap Year every four years to take into account the earth’s rotation. This calendar is known as the Julian calendar.
January had become the first month of the year in 715–673 BC, but this was later changed back to the former calendar’s starting month of March.
It was only in 1570 when Pope Gregory restored January 1 as the first day of the new year that the New Year as we now know it became the norm. His changes resulted in the Gregorian Calendar – although the Julian Calendar is still in use and established the year as we know it as having 365 days a year, except for Leap Years.
England adopted the new year as beginning on January 1 in 1752. Until then, March 25 had signalled the start of the New Year in England and its American colonies.
January is now thought of as a month of new beginnings – and new resolutions, most of them good! If you find it hard to keep your resolutions, be comforted by the fact that Ancient Romans also sometimes adapted their beliefs to accommodate how they were feeling at the time.
So if you find it hard to keep your New Year’s resolution in January, perhaps revert to the old Roman calendar and try again on March 25!