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Why Do We Set New Year’s Resolutions in January?


5ccacd00-1ae8-4a14-b670-6abcb8e9b2ecAnd just like that, we are staring down 2016. It’s a new month and a New Year and the time when a lot of us will set resolutions for the year ahead. Have you set one? My New Year’s resolution this year is to look for the positive or humorous in tough situations. To err on the lighter side, to look for laughter when my instinct or inclination might be to complain or gripe. To bring a dose of much-needed levity to my life and the lives of others, whenever possible (and appropriate).

While thinking about the topic of New Years and new resolutions, I remembered a fun fact I learned last year while in Rome. Do you know why the first month of the year is called “January?” Why it’s considered a time for new beginnings and turning corners?

The month’s name, “January,” comes from the ancient Roman god, Janus. All of the names of the months come from the Romans, in fact. So, for instance, “March” is named after “Mars,” the Roman God of War, since the early spring was the time when fighting could resume after the winter hiatus.

September, with its “Sept” prefix (Latin for “seven”), should be the seventh month, just like October, with its “Octo” prefix, should be the eighth. Similarly, November, with its “Nove” meaning “nine,” should come ninth, and December with its “Dece” should be tenth. But as we know, September is the ninth, October is the tenth, November is the eleventh month, and December is the twelfth. Why is that?

It’s because Caesar Augustus, in all his humility, decided he wanted months named after himself and his godfather, Julius Caesar. So, what did he do? He took the two best months of the year — those months we now know as July and August — and named them after his hero (Julius) and himself (Augustus). This slid the rest of the calendar year down two monthly slots, pushing September from seventh to ninth, October from eighth to tenth, and so on, you get the idea. Pretty neat, right? But I digress…

Back to the first month. As I said, January is named after the Roman God “Janus.” Why? The Romans saw Janus as a mischievous god, a god with two faces. Janus was the god of thresholds, the god of transitions. He was the figure you looked to at beginnings and at endings. The god you confront when turning corners — leaving one phase behind and embarking on a new adventure. So, he is a god always looking backward and looking forward. Perfect for the start to the new year, right?

So, in honor of Janus and his namesake month, I wish you a safe, happy, and healthy time turning this corner from one year into the next. It’s a corner as big or as small as you make it. It might be something as simple as tearing off a new page on a new calendar. For others, it’s a time to take stock and reflect on endings and new beginnings. What will you take away from this past year, and what do you hope to carry into 2016?

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Allison Pataki
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