The Month of January 2021: Holidays, Fun Facts, Folklore

Everything You Should Know About January

January 1, 2021
Snow Warrior

What’s happening in January 2021? Start the new year reading about this month’s holidays, some fun traditions, stargazing events, cozy recipes, and more!

The Month of January

January was named for the Roman god Janus, known as the protector of gates and doorways who symbolize beginnings and endings. Janus is depicted with two faces, one looking into the past, the other with the ability to see into the future. What a fitting symbol for this first day of the year; this month is our door into the new year. Read more about all 12 months’ names here.

The Romans often made promises to Janus and exchanged good wishes. Read more about the custom of making New Year resolutions—and see how they have changed over time to today!

Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet (1807–82)

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Credit: Telia/Shutterstock

History of January

The months of January and also February were not originally in the ancient Roman calendar as the winter months were considered dormant, both in terms of agriculture but also in terms of making war. This was a time of peace. Until 450 BCE, the Roman calendar was 10 months, beginning in March (Martius), due to the March Equinox. Remember March was named for “Mars,” the god of War who was also an agricultural guardian.

January Weather

January is here,
With eyes that keenly glow—
A frost-mailed warrior striding
A shadowy steed of snow.

–Edgar Fawcett, American poet (1847–1904)

In the Northern Hemisphere, January is the coldest month of the year in most regions. We’re expecting a chilly start to the 2021 New Year. See the January forecast

Did You Know: According to folklore, the weather of the first 12 days of the year is said to be indicative of the following 12 months. See your long-range weather predictions for the year.

January Calendar

  • January 1 is New Year’s Day. While you’re still recuperating from the prior night’s parties, read about some other new year’s traditions you might not know about and celebrate with some Hoppin’ John for good luck.
  • January 5 brings Twelfth Night, an English folk custom that marked the end of Christmas merrymaking, and in ancient Celtic tradition, the end of the 12-day winter solstice celebration. On Twelfth Night, it was customary for the assembled company to toast each other from the wassail bowl.
  • January 6 is Epiphany. According to the New Testament’s Gospels, on this date the Magi—the three wise men or kings—venerated and brought gifts to the infant Jesus. Bake a King Cake with a lucky bean inside!
  • January 17 is Benjamin Franklin’s birthday. He was not only a world-renowned statesman, inventor, and scientist, but was also fascinated by agriculture. Here at the Old Farmer’s Almanac, we consider him the father of almanacs! How much do you know about Ben? 
  • January 18 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day (observed). This holiday is held on the third Monday in January and honors the principles of this civil rights leader and Nobel Prize Winner dedicated to nonviolence.
  • January 20 is Inauguration Day, which is the day that the next U.S. president is sworn into office.

Amazing Fact: January 20 also begins 10 days of palindromes! What’s a palindrome? It’s a number or word which can be read the same forward and backward. (Example: “Rise to vote, sir.”) Some cultures believe palindrome dates are lucky. And 1-20-21 starts a historic string of 10 palindrome dates!

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“Just for Fun” Days

January is National Clean Up Your Computer Month and National Hot Tea Month! Here are some more fun things to celebrate in January:

  • January 1: Z Day (On this day, those whose last name begins with “Z” get to go first instead of last.)
  • January 3: National Chocolate-Covered Cherry Day
  • January 6: National Bean Day
  • January 8: Elvis Presley’s Birthday
  • January 10: National Houseplant Appreciation Day
  • January 14: National Dress Up Your Pet Day
  • January 20: National Penguin Day
  • January 22: National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day
  • January 29: National Puzzle Day

Forgotten Customs: Going Back to Work!

If you enjoy unusual, forgotten, or bygone customs, here are two that traditionally marked the end of the Christmas break when it was time to face the “daily grind.” Often, these were “joke” holidays that mixed up the first days back to hard work with some playfulness thrown in. 

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January 7: Distaff Day
The day after Epiphany (January 6) was once called Distaff Day and marked when the women went back spinning after the 12-day Christmas celebration. A distaff is a wooden rod (staff) that holds flax or wool. Before the Spinning Wheel arrived, spinning was slowly and tediously done on a Drop Spindle. As is often the case, it’s hard to go back to work after the holidays and not much got done! The women’s husbands would mischievously try to set fire to the flax on their wives’ distaffs, while the women, lying in wait, would retaliate with humor by dousing them with buckets of water.

Partly worke and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaffs day:
From the Plough soone free your teame;
Then come home and fother them.
If the Maides a spinning goe,
Burne the flax, and fire the tow:
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maiden-haire.”

–Robert Herrick (17th-century English lyric poet and cleric)

In modern times, fiber artists will often hold a little Distaff Day celebration! Why not? It’s a day for Spinners!

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January 13, 2020: Plough Monday 

Dating back to the fifteenth century, the first Monday after Epiphany (January 6) marked the start of the agricultural season, specificaly for ploughing the fields for spring-sown crops. Of course, not much work was actuallly done on the first day! Dressed in clean white smocks decorated with ribbons, the men dragged a plow (plough) through the village and collected money for the “plow light” that was kept burning in the church all year. Often men from several farms joined together to pull the plow through all their villages. They sang and danced their way from village to village to the accompaniment of music. In the evening, each farmer provided a Plough Monday supper for his workers, with plentiful beef and ale for all.

In modern times, a folk revival has turned Plough Monday to some small communities. If you have a small farm or CSA, why not celebrate the start of spring sowing this way!

January Astronomy

Even in astronomy, there is a sense of new beginnings. In the Northern Hemisphere, the days are starting to get longer again and we look forward to the light’s remergence.

Perihelion: Earth Passes Its Closest to the Sun

On January 2, 2021, Earth reaches this year’s perihelion, which is the point in its orbit where it is closest to the Sun. At perihelion, the Earth will be 91,399,454 miles from our bright star. Read more about perihelion (and aphelion) here.

The Full Wolf Moon

January’s Moon is called the Wolf Moon. The Saxon word for the month is “Wulf-monath” or wolf month.

This year, the full Moon is late in the month of January, reaching peak illumination at 2:18 P.M. EST on Thursday, January 28, 2021. It can be seen rising from the horizon around sunset that evening.

See the January Wolf Moon article to learn more!

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The Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The Quadrantids appear in the early January sky, producing up to 25 meteors per hour at their peak. They’ll be at their best on the night of Sunday, January 3, into Monday, January 4. For the best chance at spotting them, venture out between midnight and dawn (if you can stand the cold). See our Meteor Shower Calendar for more about the year’s meteor showers.

Gardening: Start Planning!

For much of the country, January is the best time to start planning your garden for the upcoming season. If you want to learn how to grow the best veggies this year, read our Vegetable Gardening for Beginners Guide.

Then, start dreaming and designing with the Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner! Now offering a free 7-day trial!

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Our Garden Planner includes more than 250 fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs, with information on growing and planting each species.Plus, you’ll be able to see other gardeners’ plans to help you get inspired. Try it for free today!

Recipes for the Season

In the month of January, stay warm and cozy with soups, stews, and chowders.

Here are a few of our personal favorites:

Potato and Kale Soup. Photo by Gaus Alex/Shutterstock.
Potato and Kale Soup. Photo by Gaus Alex/Shutterstock.

It’s also a great time to break out the pancake recipes for a warm, hearty breakfast. Here’s a collection of our favorite pancake recipes!

Everyday Advice

January Birthstone

January’s birthstone, the garnet, is thought to keep the wearer safe during travel. Learn more about January’s birthstone.

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January Birth Flower

January’s birth flowers are the carnation and snowdrop. Read more about January’s birth flowers!

Snowdrop flowers

The Zodiac

January’s Zodiac signs are: 

See your January 2020 horoscope!

Weather Folklore for January

  • Fog in January brings a wet spring.
  • A favorable January brings us a good year.
  • If grass grows in January, it will grow badly the whole year.
  • A summerish January, 
    a winterish spring. 

Have a lovely January and a wonderful start to 2020!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Wacky Holidays

Last year you listed fun and wacky holidays celebrated each month. Can you do that again? We really enjoy them! I'm curious about the ones in January.

Thank you!
Aimee

Just for Fun Days

The Editors's picture

We’ve added some January “Just for Fun” days to the calendar section above. Enjoy!

I'd like to know what to look

I'd like to know what to look under to see what days of each month thats good to cut hair so it will grow.

See our Best Days timetable

The Editors's picture

See our Best Days timetable for best days to cut hair to encourage growth here:
www.almanac.com/bestdays/timet...

How do I find the sign, like

How do I find the sign, like when it is in head, feet, etc?

Kathy, See our Man of the

The Editors's picture

Kathy, See our Man of the Signs here: http://www.almanac.com/content...
Find more information in the annual printed edition of The Old Farmer's Almanac.

If inanimate objects are

If inanimate objects are immune to wind chill, then why do bridges freeze over easier than the pavement that is over earth

The bridge freezes before the

The bridge freezes before the road because of what is called thermal inertia. The ground under the road constitutes a large mass that does not cool as fast as the air surrounding the bridge.

Ok - here is what I was told

Ok - here is what I was told when I asked my geology prof in college that same question. Because while in the summer pavement is a source of radiant heat, in the winter when you get below the frost line the ground is still above freezing. It holds heat better than asphalt or concrete because it is thicker. That is also why the ground around culverts freezes quicker. (:

Actually, bridges are not

Actually, bridges are not inanimate. They are build to give, move when they bare weight. They are also usually either over a pocket of air, or body of water and that would also add to their ability to freeze. Also, Water freezes on any surface it lands on.