Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions and an Ancient Roman God

January is the month of Janus, the two-headed god of ancient Romans in charge of new beginnings. His two faces gazed in opposite directions so that he could watch the start and the end of each day. With such a momentous job, Janus was the natural choice to usher in the New Year. But the actual first day of the New Year was up for grabs until the Roman Senate settled on January 1. Janus became the god people prayed to for mercy from their enemies and for a prosperous time ahead.

Janus is one of the few Roman gods that has no counterpart in Greek mythology as the Zeus/Jupiter or Hera/Juno duality. Janus was one of the "good gods" who humankind could appeal to for help in everyday life. How Janus became associated with the negative connotation of being hypocritical or deceitful: "two-faced" or "Janus-faced," remains a mystery. God of doors, gateways, beginnings, childbirth, the future and the past, he was often called upon at the start of wars. To show his support, the doors to his temple in the Roman Forum would remain open during wars, while they stayed closed during times of peace.

 Beginning the New Year with resolutions is a tradition we are very familiar with. Many people pledge to work on bettering themselves, and vow to stop smoking, lose weight, or give up drinking. The ancient Romans also had resolutions, eager to throw out whatever bad luck they had in the old year and replace it with good luck in the new. They believed in giving New Year's gifts: olive branches from special, sacred trees; gold-covered nuts; or from the wealthy, gold coins of Janus himself.

We in modern times also look forward to a fresh start on January 1 and derive comfort from traditions with our family and friends. Our custom of having parties on New Year's Eve comes from the belief that what people did or ate on January 1 would affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year. What better way to ring in the New Year than celebrating with those you love?

Many people still believe in the tradition that if a tall, dark-haired man is the first person to enter their house, they will have good fortune for the entire year. And as for food, black-eyed peas are a requirement to eat on New Year's Day, along with ham or hog jowls, a symbol of prosperity. Some regions consider cabbage as lucky food, doughnuts as the circle of life, and even rice is considered fortuitous.

Whatever your New Year's resolutions are, may the god Janus be smiling down upon you! (c) 2002 by Susanne Marie Knight

January is the perfect month for reading my JANUS IS A TWO-HEADED GOD, an award-winning science fiction romance and the sequel, JANUS IS A TWO-FACED MOON, available at Awe-Struck's website:, and,, ebook and print.

Happy New Year!


Susanne Marie Knight
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