An Apology for January

The first month of the year is the best month of the year.

Everyone hates January, or so the logic goes. Without Christmas and New Year to look forward to, January bloats to a vanishing point of endless misery. The sun turns fugitive, occasionally reappearing with a futile smudge across the sky before collapsing into the corner of the world.

Everyone wears a hangdog look. If it’s not the mental anguish of broken or tottering resolutions, it’s the physical guilt: hard penance for living off finger food and booze for weeks on end. The decorations have soured, hope has gone flat and happiness rots in the fields.

The entirely fictitious concept of ‘Blue Monday’, a 2005 marketing stunt by Sky Travel – the broadcasting disgrace’s now-defunct holiday channel – enjoys considerable credence among the reliably gullible British public. Across the UK, people inform each other with masochistic relish that the ‘most depressing day of the year’ is the third Monday in January.

But I love January. Expectations are terminally low. It is categorically impossible for January to disappoint. And the year is so young at this point that there is no pressure – not just yet – to do or achieve anything. Festive obligations recede, the calendar is mercifully uncluttered, and the days are slow and loose. No one is trying to make you go to a ‘festival’ in Victoria Park, where TikTokkers from Theydon Bois are doing their best to ruin everyone’s day.

In fact, no one bothers you at all. Family won’t visit until spring at the earliest, friends hunker down to hibernate, and throw themselves into work. The notion of spending any more time cooking than absolutely necessary is jettisoned for months.

To me, all this lends a sense of freedom and lightness to January, a month that is all possibility and potential, unburdened by creeping feelings of loss and wasted opportunity. ‘Time’s relentless melt’, as Susan Sontag put it, is still frozen solid. January is long, languid and asks nothing of you: in this it has its edge on the other months.

February deserves all the hate it gets. Barely worthy of the name ‘month’, February is an utter irrelevance. What is March? It used to be the first among months, named for the Roman god of war. March was all glory: the season of kings and conquerors. But that was 2,000 years ago. April and May are the helpless victims of fate. As the planet warms and the ice caps melt, spring has lost its place. So long wolfed down, barely chewed, by our impatient appetite for summer, April and May will be sorely missed. May they rest in peace.

Giddy June and haughty July slip through our hands like sand. They have their charms, obviously. There’s no denying the heat and the light and the throb of human energy. But summer’s lease has all too short a date. The king of seasons slips in unnoticed – the clock starts ticking on summer while you’re still wearing your big coat. After the solstice, it’s all downhill.

August and September always bring a sense of melancholy: the shortening days are a funeral march, or a mid-year review with a cheerful manager you detest, reminding you of all you said you would achieve. The evenings close in on you.

It goes without saying that October has been completely ruined by Americans.

November and December slip past in a slur of dates, deliveries, work-dos, headaches and sluggish digestion, over before they’ve really begun. Christmas is fun at first, of course. But there is nothing so desolate as that final week, watching normal telly in your family home with a world-ending hangover, and then heading to your childhood bedroom and contemplating your miserable lot.

In The Shepheardes Calender (1579), the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser called January ‘the sad season of the year’, ‘freezing with unkindly cold’. It is impossible to know if Sky Travel’s oddly persistent ‘Blue Monday’ myth was inspired by Spenser’s Virgilian masterpiece. We should give the marketing managers and copywriters of the mid-2000s the benefit of the doubt.

And in fairness, if you’re a shepherd, January is probably a bit shit. But for the rest of us, January just says: you do you. January comes with no strings attached. January is unhurried, never rushed, a month to be savoured. January is a time for relentless shagging: the 2021 UK Census found that October was the most popular month for births (8.9% of all live births). Nine months’ space reveals the real month of love.

It might be cold. It might be dark. It might be long. But January is always there for you. January loves you unconditionally, supports your choices and asks for nothing in return. January is the loving father you never had, and it is by far the greatest month of all.

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