January 3, 2013

January – A New Month for a New Year

By Eloise Graham

January is named for the Roman god, Janus (pronounced JAYN-us) – the god of beginnings and transitions. He is also referred to as the god or protector of doors and gateways. He is a two-faced god, because he looks to the past and to the future. I found it interesting to learn that the word “janitor” comes from the same Latin word, as does Janus. A janitor is the keeper of the gate or door.

January is full of superstitions, good-luck rituals, and frivolous ideas. Most of the superstitions come from Medieval England (beginning 1066) through the 18th century.

The Door Custom

In the old days, the New Year started with a custom called ‘first footing,’ which was supposed to bring good luck to people for the coming year. As soon as midnight had passed and January 1 had started, people used to wait behind their doors for a dark haired person to arrive. The visitor
carried a piece of coal, some bread, some money and some greenery. These were all for good luck – the coal for warmth, the bread for food to eat, money for enough money, and greenery for a long life. The visitor would then take a pan of dust or ashes out of the house with him, thus signifying the departure of the old year.

New Year Superstition

The first of January was a highly significant day in medieval superstitions regarding prosperity, or lack of it, in the year ahead. A flat cake was put on one of the horns of a cow in every farmyard. The farmer and his workers would then sing a song and dance around the cow, until the cake was thrown to the ground. If it fell in front of the cow, that signified good luck; to fall behind indicated the opposite.

Unluckiest Day of the Year

It was an old Saxon belief that January 2 was one of the unluckiest days of the whole year. Those unfortunate enough to be born on this day could expect to die an unpleasant death.

St. Hillary’s Day of Feast

St. Hillary’s Feast is the 13th day of January. It has gained the reputation of being the coldest day of the year due to past cold events starting on or around this date. One of the most severe winters in history began around January 13 in 1205, when the Thames in London froze over, and ale and wine turned to solid ice and were sold by weight.

In 1086, a great frost also started spreading over the country on St. Hilary’s Day and lasted for 10 days.

St. Agnes’s Eve January 20

This was the day on which girls and unmarried women who wished to dream of their future husbands would perform certain rituals before going to bed. These included transferring pins one by one from a pincushion to their sleeve whilst reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or abstaining from food and drink all day, walking backwards up the stairs to bed, and eating a portion of dumb cake (previously prepared with a group of friends in total silence and often containing an unpleasantly large portion of salt) before lying down to sleep.

Custom of the Year’s First New Moon

It is said that if you look through a silk handkerchief, which has never been washed, at the new moon the number of moons you see will be the number of years which will pass until you’re married. But, it is unlucky to see the new moon through a window.

To dream of your future husband, it is said that at the first appearance of the first new moon of the year, you should go out and stand over the spars of a gate or stile and look at the moon reciting this little poem:

All hail to thee moon, all hail to thee,
I prythee, good moon, reveal to me,
This night who my husband shall be.