January: a time to look forward or backward?

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus. Janus has two faces – one which faces forwards and the other faces behind. In January we look forward to the new year, but also take time to look back over the year that has been. In a platonic kind of a way, would our memories and desires be selective?

Janus – God of Beginnings

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus. Janus has two faces – one which faces forwards and the other faces behind.

Janus: God of Beginnings
Janus: God of Beginnings. Image courtesy: www.rense.com/general92/janus.htm

A bi-directional outlook

January is at the start of the year, the time to look forward to the new year ahead, but also the time when you look back at the year that has been. (You know this from all of those endless best of year lists…)

I’m more of a night owl than a morning person. I prefer to cower under the quilt in warmth and fear of the day ahead. But once I’m up and about and had time to get my body clock accustomed to the local time and I’m busy with doing things, I’m really motivated and enthusiastic in what I do.

And I think it’s a bit the same moving from the daily to the yearly time scale; I don’t like the new year celebrations.

I love Christmas and I spend a long time looking forward to it. In January when Christmas is over there is nothing much new to look forward to – just cold weather (although sometimes winter time can be a good thing).

A cultural perspective

The Dutch celebration of the new year (or “oude-nieuwe” – “old-new” – as they call it) is quite different from the new year’s eve parties in England. In England we celebrate from say 8 or 9 o’clock to the midnight hour and then on into the new year.

In Holland the party doesn’t start until about 11:30 pm so it seems that the celebration is more to do with the arrival of the new year rather than the farewell of the old. That said, fireworks in Holland are ignited from around 8 p.m. and go on till 4 in the morning, whereas in England they are let off on the hour and go on for a duration in accordance with the size of the firework box.

Fireworks, apparently, follow a different timing schedule than the party-goers!

A comparison with nature

Looking forwards or backwards in time is strictly a 1D approach where time flows along a linear axis. In the Earth sciences we commonly undertake statistical measures to describe various transient phenomenon. ‘Playing’ with the time axis is a common approach – for example, the “yearly monthly mean” which looks at the mean value in several Januaries over several years.

This is still linear, but in a selective fashion.

I can’t help wondering whether our memories of the past or our desires for the future work in a similar way…


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