In praise of... January


Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
Unless a leap year is its fate,
February hath twenty-eight.
All the rest have three days more,
excepting January,
which hath six thousand,
one hundred and eighty-four.

~ Brian Bilston 

It's the 1st February, when we're supposed to exclaim a collective, and relieved Hallelujah! January is over: that cold, grey, almost perpetually dark month, made darker and more dismal once we take down the Christmas lights. January is the month of anticlimax, and of self-imposed penance after our Christmas feasting; of high bills, and low spirits. January lasts far too long - much longer than its official thirty-one days... before finally giving way to February. And - although there is no discernible difference between yesterday and today - 1st February, St Brigid's Day is, in Ireland at least, the traditional first day of spring. 

Except, no... there is much more to January than its dreary, undeserved reputation! So, I am writing in praise of this unjustly maligned month, of which I am very fond. Admittedly, I'm biased: this is the month in which I celebrate my birthday, and, near the beginning, the anniversary of my entrance into religious life - so, however cheerless the weather, I have reasons to cheer!

And, apart from my significant dates, January is generally a month of good cheer. It is the gateway into a new year, and all the hope and promise, freshness and new beginnings that can bring. It is the month of gradually lengthening days - whatever the weather may choose to do, the 31st is discernibly longer than the 1st - and of a still-slanting, though slightly higher winter sun. And it is the month when seeming death and barrenness begin to turn into new life: the month of our first snowdrops and crocuses, and of those first, spirit-lifting moments when we begin to catch sight of them. They are spring's early heralds, speaking to us of resilience, hope and revival, and of spring's eventual advent. And, by the end of the month, we have £1 bunches of sunshine-y daffodils in our shops! 

So yes; it's still winter, still cold and grey. But January contains green shoots and promise; reminds us that winter will not last forever. And thus January, its hard work done, hands all this to February, steps back, and allows it to pick up the pace, and move us further towards spring, and new life.