Snow-covered trees in winter.
One of a series of photographs taken after a heavy snowfall in February 2022. Click on the picture to view the full gallery.

Adult me has always detested January. After three solid months of prepping for and celebrating holidays (Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas), January is just boring. There are no big holidays that you celebrate with friends or family, the days are short and cold, the skies are always a formless grey, filled with a blanket of shapeless clouds. 

January is just a fast empty, formless plain. There is nothing to see, nothing to do, nothing to imagine. I am tired, and so is everyone else. January is like the Denny’s of the calendar. It’s not a place you choose to go to. It’s just the place you end up at after a night of bad choices.

When I was a kid, and we actually had snow (which we don’t any more, because of climate change), and my knees didn’t hurt, January was a pretty good time. You could play in the snow, have snowball fights with your friends, slide over the icy streets on your way to and from school like you were ice-skating—a feat made possible by snowplows that polished the streets smooth like a zamboni, and temperatures that never even got close to the freezing point. It was a good time to enjoy winter, because it was also a good time to enjoy your youth.

Alas, nothing last forever. I grew up, as one hopefully does. Sliding on icy streets to and from school became an extra half hour every morning to get to work while driving over icy roads. Playing in the snow became paying someone to plow out your driveway while you shoveled your sidewalk. Snowfall fights with your friends became arguments with you significant other, was also tired of being cooped up, and just as exhausted by the holiday season and depressed by the short days as you are.

If April is the cruelest month, surely January is the most indifferent month. It neither cares nor doesn’t care. It is simply a force of nature, like gravity. You can leap, you can jump, you can dance, but ultimately gravity wins and you end up on the ground again. The only choice you get is how you land, how you come back to earth.

And so I’ve come to reconsider January.

After the dancing, the leaping, the jumping of the last three months, January is when we land, when we come to earth. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to view January less and less like a formless voice, and more like an opportunity to return to order after the chaos of the holidays. January is slow and quite and formless, giving us a chance to rebuild the structure that we had forsaken for the holidays.

January is not only a great opportunity to rest, but also to reconsider. We place a great deal of emphasis on making New Year’s resolution at the moment the new year begins, but that is really the wrong time to do that. We are still in a celebratory mood (mostly—your alcohol consumption will temper this) and pretty much willing to say anything. 

I for one, do not want to spend the next twelve months of my life trying to live up to something I drunkenly admitted to late in the evening. In vino veritas the Romans said, and while wine may lead to the truth, it does not, so far as I have been able to discover, lead to a good plan for the following year. 

So I am not going to object to January. I am going to embrace it as an opportunity to return to order after the chaos of the holiday season. Rather than seeing as something I must pass through at the beginning of each year, I am going to envision it as the peaceful end of the previous year. Instead of a time to regret, it will be a time to recharge, to reflect, to review. And also, a time to look forward. January is named after Janus, the Roman god with two faces who looks both backward and forward. I have never understood his role. 

But now I do. January is the null month, a time when we look both backward and forward. What worked in the past year? What didn’t work? What things did we hope for that we actually managed to achieve? What things did we fail to achieve? What are some things we wanted that we should probably let go of? There is peace and quiet in January, giving us the time and energy to reflect and plan for the year ahead. Rather than a formless void, January is our chance to plan and hope and think. It’s a time to get back on track with becoming the person we want to be.

And I am grateful for this opportunity.

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