Struggling with resolutions or experiencing revelations? You may not be alone! Read on to find out more…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. Maintaining a base at the original headquarters on North Parade, the company now also has offices across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Today, Jennifer Bolt of the Crawley office blogs on the origins of the occasion Epiphany, marked on 6th January each year…
The beginning of January is traditionally a time for cleaning, planning and reinvention. We hang new calendars, write anticipated events neatly into new diaries and begin the loathsome task of discarding rubbish generated by festive celebrations. As we devour the last of the Quality Street tin – vowing they’ll be the last chocolates ever permitted in the house – we sort through our belongings to throw away the old and find space for the lovely (and sometimes not-so-lovely!) gifts we may have received over the season. But why do we choose to do this now?
Why in the middle of Winter, when the weather is at its bleakest (on average, the coldest month of the year within the Northern hemisphere), our pockets are at their emptiest and many of us are still busy recovering from the excesses of the holiday season, do we collectively decide that now is the time for developing new habits, learning new skills and buying new sofas?
Seasonally, it makes some sense: as the first new month after the Winter Solstice, the days are gradually getting lighter and we can begin to look forward to spending more time out of doors. It’s little wonder then that we associate it with blowing away mental cobwebs as well as physical ones. But, as the name suggests, there may be more to it than the weather.
Over the years, this first month has had many names: Charlemagne referred to it as ‘Wintarmanoth’ (the cold month) while the Anglo Saxons commonly referred to it as ‘Wulf-monath’ or ‘wolf month’ with the full moon in January often still referred to as the ‘Wolf Moon’. The name that has perpetuated however – January (from the Latin, Ianuarius) – is thought to recall Janus, the two-headed Roman god of new beginnings and transitions. Janus’ two heads, which look simultaneously to the future and the past, reminded followers of the importance of both and encouraged a balanced approach to all things. His image would often appear above city gates or victory arches, signalling the transition from conflict to peace, and he was thought to reside on the brink between the earthly and heavenly realms, acting as a link between human and divine.
Aside from spiritual matters however, there may also have been a political agenda for citing January as the first month of the year. The Roman calendar originally consisted of only ten months, leaving the Winter monthless: perhaps such a bleak period was thought undeserving of official recognition. January and February are believed to have been added around 700BC but, according to the 19th century historian, Theodor Mommsen, 1st January didn’t officially become the first day of the year until 153BC when losses in the Lusitanian War prompted Roman officials to force consuls into office two and a half months prior to the legally acceptable date, 15th March: a little like starting the year immediately as a new Prime Minister is elected.
Today – 6th January – is of particular significance in the Christian calendar as it marks the Epiphany. This is thought to be the day when the Three Wise Men of the Nativity story eventually reached the stable in Bethlehem and acknowledged the sacred identity of the child. The term ‘epiphany’ (from an ancient Greek term meaning manifestation or striking appearance) is commonly used to describe the experience of sudden insight or revelation and, though historically intended to refer to religious inspiration, over time it has come to more broadly represent the enlightenment of a new year the fresh start it promises.
The evening before, known as Twelfth Night, was celebrated as a Catholic festival. Marking the end of the festive season, it was an occasion for partying and celebration, often involving dressing up as ‘opposites’ – servants dressed as their masters, men as women and so on: Shakespeare’s famous play, in which much confusion and chaos is caused by disguise, cross-dressing and subterfuge, is said to have been named for this particular celebration, which highlighted the muddled confusion people were thought to be in before the enlightenment of the first Epiphany.
Nowadays, the frolic and revelry of Twelfth Night has largely been abandoned, though in modern households it still signals a definite end to the festive season and a return to work. Generally, it is the date by which people are expected to have taken down decorations and cleaned their houses, ready for the new year, and – as is often the case when societies seek to modify people’s behaviour – such traditions have given rise to folklore intended to imply risk and jeopardy for those who choose to flout the accepted norms. One such tale promises that malevolent sprites or imps will make their homes in decorations left up in houses after 5th January, making mischief and bringing misery to the household’s inhabitants. Whether it’s the threat of devilish sprites or simply a desire to no longer risk entanglement in the tinsel, those who choose to partake in Christmas celebrations are likely to have taken down most of their decorations by the end of this week and be returning to the relative normality of work and study, refreshed by the Bank Holiday break.
Sadly though, despite this emphasis on mindfulness and fresh-thinking, January is also likely to be the month when most of us will break our New Year’s resolutions. Studies have shown that around 80% of promises made will have failed by the second week in February, and it is this gloomy prospect that has given rise to a more recent tradition: Blue Monday. Typically the third Monday in January (18th this year), ‘Blue’ Monday is considered to be the most depressing day of the year: the result of a mathematical equation that claims to take into account factors such as the weather, the level of debt accumulated (no doubt exacerbated by early pay days in December), time passed since festive celebrations and low motivation. Though justly derided as pseudoscience, there’s no escaping the fact that January – like its namesake – is a two-faced month, bringing hope and optimism along with misery and despair.
So how can we make sure we can stick to our guns into February and beyond? Well, experts believe it can take between 28 and 66 days for new habits to become embedded so, as the majority of resolutions made tend to relate to health and fitness, it’s hardly surprising that many people become disenfranchised when they don’t see immediate effects but making resolutions publicly, or jointly with friends and family, can help to ensure accountability and support. Similarly, though having measurable targets can help, avoid overly tight, specific goals that are easier to miss than hit: ‘I will lose a stone by the end of January’ is, for example, an unhealthy and unrealistic goal for any but the most hardened fitness guru. And remember the adage ‘everything in moderation’: denying something entirely is almost always a fast-track to failure as, psychologically, we’re programmed to focus on seeking that which appears to be in short supply (think of toilet rolls last April!)
Whatever your resolutions or motivations, we at Freeman Brothers wish you luck, success and a positive start to the new year.
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