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.
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!