If there is anyone who would speak a few words on behalf of the month of January, let them come forward now. I think it unlikely.
January is an unloved month. The most unloved.
Coming as it does after the holidays, after the season to be jolly, our revels now are ended and all that.
Traditionally it is a season of remorse, a kind of hangover. Guilt! Shame! Recrimination! Regret! Right? People are said to take drastic action, join health clubs and gyms. Take up Pilates and Zumba and hot yoga. Take up chia, açaí juice, almond milk, kale and tofu.
New Year’s resolutions are made (and quickly unmade, but it’s the guilt that’s important). Some wicked sinners forsake the strong waters. Others forsake the sot-weed. Farewell to fast food. Better take the Burgerator app off your iPhone.
By the time you read this you may have already broken a New Year’s resolution or two. I will have. I do not need to make New Year’s resolutions. I’m married. My wife makes them for me. All the time. New Year’s resolutions for me are made on an ad hoc basis.
Daily, weekly, monthly. Not just at the start of the new year.
But for most folks January is the grim season of repentance. In a really big and nonsecular way, January out-Lents Lent. Not quite 40 days of denial, fast and abstinence, but January symbolizes the proverbial clean slate. New beginnings. New horizons. New directions.
A fresh start. You get the idea.
Sounds like rehab? It is. It’s the month of rehab with a whole rehabilitative year before you and you better try to straighten yourself out! (That might be my wife talking.) Americans are a nation of Calvinists. They like that rehab thing. Avoid the near temptations of sin! The road to perdition is paved with temptations.
Try to be a better person. Well, try at least. It’s no mere accident that people seem a bit down in January. (I have found trying to be a better person particularly daunting. I no longer try.)
January is a guilty month, too, because we remember the sins of the past year (and we miss them). And spring seems far, far away. Probably because it is. There’s a lot of repenting you can do between Jan. 1 and the third week of March. The ancients displayed the god Janus—from whom the month takes its name—as two-faced, a god of transition, looking backward and forward.
January is really about winter, the bleak midwinter spoken of in the poem and hymn. William Shakespeare makes only two mentions of the dreaded month in his works (neither good). The bard speaks of the blasts of January. In other words, it’s COLD. And he makes a little joke about a hot January—which, of course, is not possible.
The days are among the year’s shortest. Daylight is at a premium. It gets dark early and it stays dark. Folks suffer seasonal light deprivation. Kale won’t help that. And it’s the coldest month in this hemisphere. I do not believe anyone enjoys January. We endure it.
February has two popular holidays. Groundhog Day, the High Holiday of hope that the winter might soon be over if a little rodent named Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow, and Valentine’s Day, the High Holiday for all hope abandon (love is all you need). February is also three days shorter than January. And when February is over, it’s March—and March is, no matter what happens, the sniff of spring.
January is why we go to warm places in the winter. I am planning very soon to spend my bleak midwinter someplace where there is no winter. I am a late convert to the sunny climes, I admit it. I rolled my eyes at Florida and the Caribbean for decades. I had been there, but they seemed to make no impression on me. But now I have begun to like the idea of escaping winter.
Last year, we went to Puerto Rico in January. This was largely because we had free Southwest Airlines tickets and we could fly direct to San Juan from BWI. I thought that a sign from the gods that we were meant to go.
Let me tell you just one thing about Puerto Rico. It was 6 degrees when we left BWI. Four hours later, it was 86 degrees in Old San Juan. And that’s why people go to warm places in the winter. First, to escape the cold. But secondly to take some comfort in knowing that back home someone is freezing.