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Our story begins with yet another Numa. In this case, it is not Numa Numa, but Numa Pompilius, the legendary second King of Rome, after Romulus. Remember? Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers raised by a she-wolf? Anyhow, around 713 years before the Christian era, Numa Pompilius added two months to the calendar: January and February. Why, you might ask, add two months? Pre-Numa, the Roman winter was considered so useless that it wasn't even assigned months. The year ended in December (the "tenth month") and began after winter in March, named after the god Mars, who was at first a fertility-vegetation god, before He joined the military-industrial complex. But I digress. Back to January.
As every high school Latin student knows (are there any high school Latin students left in the USA?), January was named after the god Janus, the one with two faces, one looking forward and the other backward. It might have been the other way around, the god named after a word for door, IANUA, or even named after the goddess Diana (not Princess Di, it's the other goddess.) How could that be? Change Diana (feminine ending) to Dianus (masculine ending) and drop the "D."
In January, newly elected American politicians take office, but that custom was observed by the Romans too. Their republic elected consuls, heads of state who, more powerful than the US President, had executive, legislative, and judicial power, and could also be commanders in chief during wartime. In 153 BCE, two consuls reportedly declared January 1 election day, giving a consul-elect the whole winter for inaugural ceremonies, legislating, adjudicating, and executing, before March, when he would march off to war with his army.
The January 1 New Year's day, once associated with the solstice, is celebrated with many customs around the world, one of the more interesting of which is the Scottish Hogmanay. At midnight, the Scots try to be the first to cross the thresholds of their friends and neighbors, bearing gifts including fruit bars (shown above using Dave Souza's excellent photo), which are called flies cemeteries because the currants inside them look like dead flies. And the Scots do, as I understand it, take a cup of kindness, while singing a song called "Old Long Since," better known by its title in Scots: "Auld Lang Syne."Permanent Link to This Entry | | Technorati Tag: January blog comments powered by Disqus Comments (View)
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