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The forgotten month: Looking forward to looking back   

By Dr Doug Witherspoon - 21st Jan 2024


It’s the month that most of us try to forget, or at least ignore. There are few who are not glad to see the back of January.

There are all sorts of low-powered research articles out there on people getting ‘the blues’ at this time of year, as well as seasonal affective disorder, so I won’t rehash these matters. As it disappears into the rear-view mirror, better to look at some of the more unusual facts about this much-maligned month.

In fact, it didn’t used to exist at all. The months of January and February were considered ‘dormant’ by the Romans with regard to making war and growing crops, at least at one time in the empire’s history. When the month came into existence, it was named after the Roman god Janus, which symbolised endings and new beginnings. Its effigy was crafted as having two faces; one looking to the past and another facing forward. 

We have previously covered how certain dates are used to mark appreciation for a person or thing, and January has plenty of these, particularly in the US. For instance, did you know that 10 January is National Houseplant Appreciation Day in the US? If you’re more partial to live companions, 14 January is National Dress Up Your Pet Day. 

For the more playful among us, 22 January is National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. Some thought has actually gone into this, as on this day, cat owners are encouraged to more meaningfully communicate with their beloved feline, to understand its body language, etc. As a ‘dog man’, I remain indifferent. 

With all this excitement, National Penguin Day on 20 January might almost slip by unnoticed, were I not here to dutifully report its existence to you.

For those of us with eyes on the skies, the full Wolf Moon reaches peak illumination on 25 January at 12:54pm EST. This occurs when the moon is located on the opposite side of the earth to the sun, therefore the surface of the moon that’s facing towards the Earth is entirely illuminated by the sun’s rays. For stargazers, the moon rises from the northeastern horizon around sunset on that evening.

Historically, January has actually been quite eventful. This one may make you feel old, but the euro officially debuted on 1 January 1999 for 11 European nations. Also on 1 January, but in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War.

Nikola Tesla sadly died on 7 January 1943, while the brutal political leader of the dreaded Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Pol Pot, was ousted by Vietnamese troops on the same day in 1979.

The iPhone sometimes seems like it’s been with us forever, but Steve Jobs only debuted it on 9 January 2007 at the Macworld convention in San Francisco. In doing so, he changed the world. 

January of this year also marks the 80th anniversary of the end of the siege of Stalingrad. It was one of the longest and destructive sieges in human history. By the time it was officially ended on 27 January 1944, one million civilians had died. On the same date the next year, Auschwitz was liberated.

January was also the month when the first 500 copies of the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley were published.

However, perhaps the superstitious among us should keep an eye on the date 30 January, as it seems a little prone to ominous events. On 30 January 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, and on the same day in 1948, Ghandi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist. Finally – and I hate to bring it up – but 30 January 2020 was when the first cases of Covid-19 were identified in the UK. 

I hope this rambling review of our least-favourite month served some obscure purpose. Perhaps this greyest of months might seem a little more interesting next time round. 

Meterologically at least, the darkest days are behind us.

Janus am I, oldest of potentates

Forward I look, and backward, and below

I count, as god of avenues and gates,

The years that through my portals come and go.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, poet

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