Here is January. All hail to thee. Thus begins the writer of Peter Parley's Annual for the year 1856,brimming with good cheer and optimism. The writers of children's literature have taken numerous opportunities over the years to celebrate January by encouraging children to review their accomplishments and behavior during the past year and to think about what they can do better during the coming year.
The author of Flowers from the Garden of Knowledge, Days, Months, and Seasons of the Year, published in 1854, used the image of the god Janus, for whom January was named, as a convenient representation for encouraging reflections on the past and resolutions for the future. She describes Janus as the god of gates and new beginnings, a god with two faces, one looking back and one looking forward so he can see things both past and present. "Although we have not two faces," the author admits, "we can still look back upon the past year, and be sorry for any ill we have done, while we may look forward to the coming one, and resolve to use it better." (p. 8) An article in the January 1900 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine used the image of a book to encourage children to anticipate the new year and use it's gift of time profitably. "Perhaps you got a new book for Christmas," the author writes, "and know with what eager pleasure you untied the string, took off the wrapping-paper, examined the cover and title page and read the first chapter." You don't know what's there, but as you turn the book page by page the story unfolds; likewise, you don't know what the new year will bring, but day by day with each dawn, your story will unfold throughout the year.
"Nineteen Hundred" he suggests, "is the title of a new book and January is the first chapter. The old book entitled "Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-Nine" is of the past. A careful reading of that book will teach us how to get the most pleasure and profit from this new one. Make the most of Chapter January and of each chapter to follow, so that year after year, the months will come around like old friends, filled with happy memories.
The first month of a new year opens another unused span of that indeterminate interval between birth and death, another series of 365 days. It is a clean slate, the first page of a brand-new calendar. Here is January. All hail to thee.
Jacob, Maria. Flowers from the Garden of Knowledge: Days Months and seasons of the year explained to the little people of England. London: Nathaniel Cooke, 1854.
Peter Parley's Annual: A Christmas and New Year's Present for Young People, London: Darton & Co., 1856.
St. Nicholas, An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, New York: The Century Company, January 1900, p. 267.
Copyright 2005© Rita Smith
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