Over the last few weeks I’ve questioned my New Year practices. I was once a New Years’ Enthusiast, eagerly awaiting the turn of the calendar page and all of the sequin-spangled opportunities it seemed to bring. But over the last few years my attitude has changed dramatically. January comes and I still feel consumed by winter, as deep in contemplation as the springtime blossoms hidden below ground. New Year’s Eve and Day as we celebrate it today begins to feel totally arbitrary.
It’s not a logical divide.
There is no seasonal change to mark anything “new.” Its associations with the beginning of the year are wholly superstitious, a holdout from a pagan society long gone but never forgotten.
The old gods are not dead. They’ve simply transformed. And there may be no better example than the namesake of January himself, an entity so familiar with transitions that he ruled them.
Janus was a uniquely Roman god.
Unlike the many deities that found themselves absorbed into the pantheon after grand campaigns of war or came in on the winds of trade, Janus was said to date back to the first kings of Rome. He was present as Lupercus tended the She-Wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus, assisted as Saturn heralded the Golden Age. There are no consistent stories of his origin. Some say he arrived on Roman soil by ship while others say he was present at the creation of the world itself. This certainly seems a better fit, steeping him in the primordial chaos which gave way to the orders of duality by which we understand the world.
Wherever he came from his presence was cited during pivotal moments in Roman history, his watchful eye cast over the changing tides.
With his twin faces and namesake arches, Janus stands tall in a long tradition of crossroads deities. But it was not just travelers and tradesmen who engaged in his worship — all of Rome seemed predicated on Janus’ presence. His mythic signature was by no means as strong as the absorbed Olympians but his cult was pervasive. It’s said that his name was invoked to begin all public ceremonies and political events. His image was found on coins and carved into the stone of buildings and gateways.