As we begin a new year, I thought it might be interesting to look at the month itself. As the second month of winter (northern hemisphere) or summer (southern hemisphere), January is either the coldest month of the year, or the warmest. Where I am right now, it is definitely cold, and the temperatures don’t look like going up anytime soon. Brr!

The month is associated with the god Janus, the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. As a god of transitions, he had functions pertaining to birth and to journeys; doorways were often named after him. The worship of Janus traditionally dated back to Romulus and a period even before the actual founding of the city of Rome. There were many jani (i.e., ceremonial gateways) in Rome. These usually freestanding structures were used for symbolically auspicious entrances or exits. The beginning of the day, month, and year, both calendrical and agricultural, were sacred to him.

Conventional wisdom says that January was named for Janus, It was the first month of the Roman calendar, as it is of our current one. It was added to the Roman calendar around 700 BCE, replacing March as the first month of the year around 450 BCE.

In January, besides New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Day, we celebrate such holidays as Buffet Day (2), Drinking Straw Day (3), Trivia Day (4), Bird Day (5), Epiphany (6), and Bobblehead Day (7), during just the first week. It is Book Blitz Month, Get A Balanced Life Month, International Brain Teaser Month, Hot Tea Month, Polka Music Month, and Soup Month to name a few.

So stay warm (or cool) and celebrate this first month of the year.

Quotes about January

January has only one thing to be said for it: it is followed by February. Nothing so well becomes its passing.–Katherine Tynan

The shortest day has passed, and whatever nastiness of weather we may look forward to in January and February, at least we notice that the days are getting longer.  Minute by minute they lengthen out. It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change.  It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, as you watch it day by day, until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise we realize that we can stay out of doors in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour.–Vita Sackville-West

January is the quietest month in the garden. … But just because it looks quiet doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.  The soil, open to the sky, absorbs the pure rainfall while microorganisms convert tilled-under fodder into usable nutrients for the next crop of plants.  The feasting earthworms tunnel along, aerating the soil and preparing it to welcome the seeds and bare roots to come.–Rosalie Muller Wright

Bare branches of each tree on this chilly January morn look so cold so forlorn. Gray skies dip ever so low left from yesterday’s dusting of snow. Yet in the heart of each tree waiting for each who wait to see new life as warm sun and breeze will blow, like magic, unlock springs sap to flow, buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow.–Nelda Hartmann

To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.–Jean-Paul Sartre

It is deep January. The sky is hard. The stalks are firmly rooted in ice.- Wallace Stevens

The Old Year has gone.  Let the dead past bury its own dead.  The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time.  All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!–Edward Payson Powell

Come, ye cold winds, at January’s call,
On whistling wings, and with white flakes bestrew
The earth.–John Ruskin

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World Day of Peace

January 1 is designated at the World Day of Peace. It is a feast day of the Roman Catholic Church and was established in 1967 by Pope Paul IV. Generally, the pope uses it to give a message about social issues of the day. In years past, some of the messages have been entitled, “Fighting Poverty to Build Peace,” “To Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation,” “Non-violence, a Style of Politics for Peace,” and the 2018 message, “Migrants and Refugees, Men and Women in Search of Peace.”

Although specifically a Catholic holy day, the first day of the year is an appropriate one to think about peace. Our world can be a very troubled place, and to set aside at least one day to think about peace is a good thing.

If this seems like a hopeless thing, r a dream, there are ways to start small to promote peace. Here are a few ideas.

  1. Work on your own inner peace. Peace starts within. Become aware of your mood, and direct it towards peacefulness. Meditate, or stop to breathe deeply or focus your thoughts.
  2. Look for ways to spread kindness to friends, family, coworkers, or even strangers. Pay attention to what would be helpful to those closest to you.
  3. Try to balance work and life. Don’t spend so much time making money that you forget to live.
  4. Watch out for prejudice. We all have them, but the more we can eliminate prejudice and see people as simply people, the more we will treat folks as human beings.
  5. Choose your attitude. We may have no control over circumstances, but we do over how we react to them. If we react with calmness, it will add to the peace in the area.

May today and all of this year bring you peace.

Quotes about peace

The arms race can kill, though the weapons themselves may never be used … by their cost alone, armaments kill the poor by causing them to starve.–Vatican statement to the U.N., 1976

The basis of world peace is the teaching which runs through almost all the great religions of the world. “Love they neighbor as thyself.”–Eleanor Roosevelt

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.–Martin Luther King, Jr.

The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations.–David Friedman

Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.–Mahatma Gandhi

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.–Dwight David Eisenhower

Five enemies of peace inhabit with us–avarice, ambition, envy, anger, and pride; if these were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace.–Petrarch

I would like to see every single soldier on every single side, just take off your helmet, unbuckle you kit, lay down your rifle, and set down at the side of some shady lane, and say, nope, I ain’t a gonna kill nobody. Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns.–Woody Guthrie

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.–Thich Nhat Hanh

There is no way to peace, peace is the way.–A. J. Muste

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Festival of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

December 30 is the strangely named Festival of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. It is a day that looks both forward and back, right at the end of the year.

It looks back, to the resolutions made last January. Didn’t quite meet them? There are two days left in the year to get busy and make those changes. There might not be time to meet them totally – such as losing ten pounds – but you can make a change today that points you in the right direction.

It looks forward, in that the day encourages people to think thoughtfully about resolutions for next year, rather than make them in the heat of the moment on January 1. Think about what you really hope to accomplish next year, write it down, and make a plan to change. It is important to create a plan to make that resolution a reality, because as Napoleon Hill said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”

Of course, the big question is why is this called a festival? You usually have a festival with a group of other like-minded folks. New Year’s resolutions are usually written alone. There doesn’t seem to be any satisfactory answer. So here’s my suggestion. For you extroverts, invite friends and/or family over and have a party, discussing and planning your resolutions for next year. For you introverts, have an introvert’s favorite kind of party, just you, snacks, and something to record your thoughts – pencil and paper, computer, or however you work best.

So put on your thinking cap, and make a plan for the next year, either alone or with others. What do you want to accomplish? Think it through and record it. May next year be the one where dreams become goals and get accomplished.

Quotes about goals

Acquire purpose, rather than possessions. Fulfillment is not found through the achievement of goals.–Michael Rawls

An average person with average talent, ambition and education, can outstrip the most brilliant genius in our society, if that person has clear, focused goals.–Brian Tracey

Committing your goals to paper increases the likelihood of your achieving them by one-thousand percent!–Brian Tracey

A commitment without a goal is like a trip without a map: odds are you won’t get where you want to be.–Mark Sanborn

Don’t set your goals too low. If you don’t need much, you won’t become much.–Jim Rohn

A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. A goal is what specifically you intend to make happen. Dreams and goals should be just out of your present reach but not out of sight. Dreams and goals are coming attractions in your life.–Joseph Campbell

The easiest way to set goals is to answer the following questions: What is it I want to achieve? When do I want to achieve it? Where am I today and what action do I need to take to achieve my goal?–Catherine Pulsifer

Even if you can’t just snap your fingers and make a dream come true, you can travel in the direction of your dream, every single day and you can shorten the distance between the two of you.–Douglas Pagels

A goal is created three times. First as a mental picture. Second, when written down to add clarity and dimension. And third, when you take action towards its achievement.–Gary Ryan Blair

The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.—Michelangelo

The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.–Ben Stein

Know what you want to do, hold the thought firmly, and do every day what should be done, and every sunset will see you that much nearer to your goal.–Elbert Hubbard

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December 28 is not officially appreciation day, but since we have just passed Christmas, and are nearly at the beginning of a new year, it seemed like a good time to stop and have some appreciation for what we have. The synonyms that thesaurus.com lists for appreciation are: acknowledgment, gratitude, recognition, thanks, gratefulness, indebtedness, obligation, testimonial, and tribute.

Let’s look at them individually.

  • Acknowledgment. How often do we actually stop and acknowledge the good that is happening around us, or the people in our lives? The first step in appreciation may be just stopping to pay attention to things and friends and family. I especially appreciate my family this year, who took me in when other plans fell through and I had nowhere to go.
  • Gratitude, thanks, gratefulness. This is such an obvious part of appreciation, showing gratitude for the good things in our lives. With Christmas just past, I am especially grateful for that time of year.
  • Recognition. This is very much related to acknowledgment. We give recognition to those who have been so important to us, both currently and in the past.
  • Indebtedness, obligation. These are less pleasant words, for often we do not want to feel an obligation or indebtedness to others. And yet where would we be without the help we have received from family, friends, and others in our lives. It is a day to appreciate those who have helped to make us who we are today.
  • Testimonial, tribute. Here are two words that are much more formal than the others. Have you ever written a testimonial or tribute for someone? I’ve done it for a friend and father who died, but wouldn’t it be lovely to do it for someone still alive, so they know how we feel now.

I hope you find many things to appreciate today.

Quotes about appreciation

The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.–G. K. Chesterton

Appreciate what you have, accept the blessings waiting for you to need them, and above all – realize that Source from which it all comes.–Michael Rawls

Appreciation can make a day–even change a life, Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.–Margaret Cousins

Appreciation, not possession, makes a thing ours.–Marty Rubin

Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the gratefully and appreciating heart.–Henry Clay

Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible–the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.–Virginia Satir

I believe that appreciation is a holy thing – that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.–Fred Rogers

I would rather be able to appreciate things I can not have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.–Elbert Hubbard

It’s possible to have too much in life. Too many clothes jade our appreciation of new ones; too much money can out us out of touch with life; too much free time and dull the edge of the soul. We need sometimes to come very near the bone so that we can taste the marrow of life, rather than its superfluities.–Joan Chittister

Mankind will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.–Abraham Heschel

Nine-tenths of wisdom is appreciation. Go find someone’s hand and squeeze it, while there’s still time.–Dale Dauten

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Saint Stephen’s Day

Saint Stephen’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Stephen, is a day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, celebrated on December 26 in the Latin Church and December 27 in Eastern Christianity. In the Christian calendar, it is the second day of Christmas. Although it is seldom remembered anymore, the season of forty days before Christmas is Advent, and Christmas is celebrated through January 6 or Epiphany. For many outside the countries where this day is celebrated, it may be best recognized as part of the carol “Good King Wenceslas” who looked out on the Feast of Stephen.

Saint Stephen’s story is found in the book of Acts in the New Testament. He was a Greek Jew, converted to Christianity, who was chosen as one of the deacons of the early church to help make sure the poor of the faith were properly cared for. He was stoned to death for blasphemy by the Jews. Due to the fact that he was the first martyr, his feast day is the closest to Christmas.

Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in several countries in Europe, including Ireland. Other countries, particularly those in the British Commonwealth call this Boxing Day, and it is a day to give to the poor. In Ireland, December 26 is also Wren Day. Folklore says that a chattering wren gave Stephen away as he was hiding, and thereafter, the wren was to be hunted down on his day, although actually, the custom predates Christianity. In modern times, the practice of “hunting the wren” involves musicians roaming from gathering to gathering, where they raise money.

But despite all the folklore and customs, the day after Christmas is mostly one to spend with family and friends, a more relaxed day after the Christmas rush is over. I hope it is so with you.

Quotes for rest and relaxation

All relaxation does is allow the truth to be felt. The mind is cleared, like a dirty window wiped clean, and the magnitude of what we might ordinarily take for granted inspires tears.–Jay Michaelson

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will no withdraw from us.–Maya Angelou

For fast-acting relief try slowing down.–Lily Tomlin

He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.–Benjamin Franklin

Like water which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees only so long as its surface is undisturbed, the mind can only reflect the true image of the Self when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed.–Indra Devi

Our minds need relaxation and give way
Unless we mix with work a little play.–Molier

There is no mortal truly wise and restless at once; wisdom is the repose of minds.–Johann Caspar Lavater

When everyone is too busy, don’t expect a more productive society. Expect a frantic society.–Jeff Davidson

Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.–George Macdonald

You are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.–Ruth Haley Barton

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.–Mark Black

Relaxation means releasing all concern and tension and letting the natural order of life flow through one’s being.–Donald Curtis

Learn to relax. Your body is precious, as it houses your mind and spirit. Inner peace begins with a relaxed body.–Norman Vincent Peale

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?–Ralph Marston

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Winter Solstice

Somewhere between December 20 and 22, we have the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. It is also called midwinter, which is somewhat ironic because it is also the official start of winter. I like the term midwinter myself because it reminds me that we are now halfway out of the dark, and the days will slowly be getting filled with more light. For my friends who love the deep peace of winter, the solstice is not a day to celebrate, but for those of us who love the summer, it is a celebration and a relief.

As the precursor to spring, midwinter also reminds us that all life begins in the dark, although we won’t see it until the days get longer and warmer.

For people in times past, the solstice was filled with significance. We see that most clearly in the monuments they left behind, such as Stonehenge and Newgrange in Ireland, which are situated with respect to the solstice. The Solstice, of course, held special significance for people who relied on agriculture, with its promise that spring was coming, even though the worst of the winter was yet to come. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available.

Many festivals are or were held at this time of year. Ancient Rome celebrated Saturnalia. Scandinavia called this time Yule, or Jul, Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log, and others, are direct descendants of Yule customs. Gods of death and rebirth are also associated with the solstice, as Mithras in Rome.

Wishing you a happy solstice today.

Quotes about the solstice and winter

The Winter Solstice is the time of ending and beginning, a powerful time – a time to contemplate your immortality. A time to forgive, to be forgiven, and to make a fresh start. A time to awaken.–Frederick Lenz

The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.–Gary Zukav

Now, near the Winter Solstice, it is good to light candles. All the nice meanings of bringing light to the world can be beautiful. But perhaps we are concentrating on lighting the world because we don’t know how to light up our own lives.–Ralph Levy

I celebrate the spirit of Christmas. It’s the winter solstice celebration, rebirth and new possibilities.–Ian Astbury

Heading into the night of the winter solstice, every spiritual tradition has some kind of festival of light. We’re all just whistling in the dark, hoping against hope that someone up there will see these little Hanukkah candles and get the hint.–Lawrence Kushner

In a way winter is the real spring, the time when the inner thing happens, the resurge of nature.–Edna O’Brien

Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.–Pietro Aretino

There is a wilder solitude in winter
When every sense is pricked alive and keen.–May Sarton

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.–Sara Coleridge

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.–T. S. Eliot

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.–Anne Bradstreet

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Go Caroling Day

December 20 is the day to go out caroling. The practice seems to have fallen out of favor in more recent years, and is more likely to happen in nursing homes and malls, than just in neighborhoods. One way to enjoy caroling now is in old movies such as A Christmas Carol, where there are almost always singers, perhaps just so Ebenezer Scrooge can knock them out of the way as he storms past.

Songs are often associated with religious celebrations, and so it is not surprising that the oldest Christmas carols are religious in nature. For a long time, the songs of Christmas were sung in Latin, but St Francis of Assisi changed that with his Nativity Plays, where songs were sung in the native language of the listeners. The earliest carol like this was written in 1410. Only a small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem.

However, carols we still sing today began in the eighteenth century. One of them is “Good King Wenceslas.” You can find a delightful edition of it by the Irish Rovers here. Some other carols written during or before that time include “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” (1749), “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” (1739), “Angels We Have Heard on High,” (1852), and “The First Noel,”(1823).

Today, one of the most popular ways of singing carols is at a Christmas Eve service by candlelight. There is also the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” which has nine Bible readings (or lessons), that tell the Christmas story, with one or two carols between each lesson. It has been broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge every year since 1931, and to my mind, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. So sing yourself a carol or two or more today.

Some lyrics from Christmas Carols. Usually, the name of the carol is part of the first line.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

The first Nowell the Angel did say
Was to three poor Shepherds in fields as they lay.
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
In a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

Verses 3&4 of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth, I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold!
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

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