By Alex Berger
January is the first calendar month to greet the new year. It was named by the ancient Romans for Janus, their god of beginnings. Janus was also the god of gates, locks, and doorways.
Curiously, Janus had two faces — one facing the future, the other the past. Gosh, how can anyone tell if he was coming or going? I would love to have two races, too. Think of it, I would be able to talk out of both sides of my mouths simultaneously. But, then again, 1 would have to shave twice. Nope, I'll stay just the way I am.
I heard on the “Roman Gods-R-Us” grapevine that Osama Bin Ladenius (the Satan of the Desert) once tried to steal the locksmith secrets from Janus and use them against the world He maliciously wanted to render all door locks incapable of being locked. What trouble that would bring! However, Janus wisely turned to his trusted lieutenants — Bushius, Powellius, and Rumsfeldius — who quickly caught and banished Ladenius to an isolated cave where he dwells forever. Imagine, he is still dwelling around somewhere in the world.
Centuries later, in merry-old England, January was named “Wolf Month” because that was the month when hungry wolves entered the villages for lunch and oft times, stayed for dinner. The large carnivorous animals loved to nibble on Englishmen in particular with English muffins. No wonder England was happy when February arrived.
In the northern part of the world (which includes TimesLedger country), January is one of the months chilled by winter. People like to go skating, sledding and skiing. Me? I like to cuddle up at home with Gloria and watch video replays of a few Giants’ victory games. What could be better than doing that?
Conversely, in the southern part of the world, people swim, hike, and play, and enjoy the comfort of the sunshine. I still like to cuddle at home with Gloria. So you see, January is many things to many people.
The first days of January are also calendar time. People will hang 2002 calendars on their walls and scribble important markings on them such as birthdays, anniversaries, and doctor’s appointments — dates they cannot trust to memory. What is my anniversary date, you ask? Hold on while I check my calendar.
Not many people know that the calendar we use today is not the only one observed in the world. There is the Hebrew (Jewish) calendar that follows the moon and the sun. Its 12 months are based on the moon, and a 13th month is added every 19 years to keep the calendar in time with the seasons. Days are added or taken away to ensure that certain holy days do not fall on certain days of the week. As a result, a Jewish year can be as short as 353 days or as long as 385 days.
According to tradition, the Hebrew calendar started 3,700 years before the birth of Christ. Thus 2002 is the year 5762 in the Hebrew calendar. Their months do not coincide with our months and the Jewish year begins in September or October, not in January.
The Muslims, on the other hand, use a calendar based on the moon. It has 12 months of 29 or 30 days. Eleven times every 30 years, an extra day is added. This keeps the calendar in time with the moon, but not with the seasons. Because the Islamic year is only 354 or 355 days long, holidays move backward through the seasons. Each year, a holiday comes about 11 days sooner. But in 33 years, it will be back from whence it first began.
The year One, on the Islamic calendar, was the year 622 on our Gregorian calendar. Thus, 2002 will be the year 1422 on the Islamic calendar.
Moving right along, the Chinese calendar, which also follows the moon, divides the years into groups of 12. Each year is named for an animal. The first of the 12 years is the Year of the Rat. This is followed by the Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse (this year — 2002), Sheep, Monkey, Roster, Dog, and Pig. What, no year to honor fish, not even a sardine? Gloria, let’s celebrate the fish with a tuna fish sandwich.
Christian churches also use the moon to set some holy days. Easter, for example, can fall any time from March 2 through April 25. The exact date depends on the moon.
Getting back to January, did you know that January is filled with the birthdays of many famous people? A few come to mind: January 1 – Paul Revere (1735) and Betsy Ross (1752). Would you consider them fraternal twins? 4 – Louis Braille (1809). He invented a system permitting blind people to read by touching raised dots. 6 – Joan of Arc (1412), Saint and French heroine. At the age of 17, she led the French army to victory. 8 – Elvis Presley (1935). Not too many people know that I am an honorary chairperson of the Committee on Elvis sightings. So, if you ever spot Elvis roaming around Bayside or Flushing, please give me a call. 9 – Richard M. Nixon (1913), the 37th President of the United States. For want of an erasure button on his tape recorder, he lost his kingdom. 1215 – Martin Luther King (1929), American minister and civil rights leader. His assassination changed America forever.
17 – Benjamin Franklin (l706). Did you know that this American statesman and inventor was born the same year as Strom Thurmond? 25 – Robert Burns (1759), the Scottish poet. He was reportedly quite a ladies man. Still he found time to also write his poetry. 26 – Douglas MacArthur (1880), American general who defeated Japan in World War II. 30 – Franklin Roosevelt (1882), our 32nd President. He led the country through the Depression and World War II. 31 – Jackie Robinson (1919), first African- American player to play in the Major Leagues.
There you have it, so soak a all in. This information may be quite useful to you someday. One never knows when one will be asked a question by one about the month of January on the TV program “The Weakest Link does one? Thank me later.
Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol..com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.