Folklore tells us January was named in honor of Janus, a two-faced Roman god who, like unsettled weather, looked simultaneously into both the past and the future, while determining who could pass through the gates of time. His reputation was of such a nature, however, that some suggested a bribe would help grease the hinges a bit.
Folklore or not, the portals of another year have swung open to reveal a sliver of the first new moon now awakening in the eastern skies. This first new moon of the year has been given many titles. The Romans named it after Janus.
American Indians referred to its awakening as the wolf moon, so named for the time of year the cold weather drove starving packs of Arctic wolves toward fresh hunting grounds.
European settlers likened this same moon as the ice moon, when the ice in lakes or rivers is at its thickest and the time to cut the summer’s supply of ice was at hand. Blocks of ice would be hand sawn, each block loaded aboard runner-equipped sleds before being hauled to their sawdust-insulated ice houses and stored in preparation for the heat of summer.
Janus’s gates have opened. Another year creeps forward. Days have lengthened, from nine hours and 54 minutes at the solstice, to 10 hours, eight minutes today, granting nearly a quarter hour more of daylight permission to creep slowly across a frosty landscape.
Perhaps it’s not exactly a scorching overabundance of sunshine as yet. However the arrival of longer days is always welcome, despite our tending to forget that old bit of folk truism: “As the days grow longer, the cold grows stronger,” suggesting the peak of two-faced winter’s weather will not attain its full bone-shivering goal until Janus, the gate keeper, invites February to perch on our doorstep.