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)
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 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 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!
“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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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:
- Kale, White Bean, and Sausage Soup
- Italian Vegetable Soup
- Bonnie’s Winter Stew
- Vermont Butternut Squash Soup
- Potato and Kale Soup
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!
- Relieve your dry skin with some homemade remedies.
- See our tips on how to stay warm this winter.
- Got snow? See our snowflake guide and find out if two snowflakes can be alike!
- Are you a cold-weather angler? Check out our ice fishing tips to make it a safe and enjoyable trip.
- Refresh your knowledge of winter weather terms to help keep you safe this winter.
January’s birthstone, the garnet, is thought to keep the wearer safe during travel. Learn more about January’s birthstone.
January Birth Flower
January’s birth flowers are the carnation and snowdrop. Read more about January’s birth flowers!
January’s Zodiac signs are:
- Capricorn: December 22–January 19. Read more about Capricorn.
- Aquarius: January 20–February 18. Read more about Aquarius.
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!