January opens the new year in dark and cold. Trees bow under a blanket of snow, and the forest is silent. We experience moments of quiet reflection and subconscious time, but the energy of the new year begins to bubble within us: the promise of the return of light has already been received as we celebrate and pass winter solstice. Christmas and New Year festivities may feel heavy in the body and mind, and we often start yearning for spring, even though the best winter weather may still be ahead. However, it’s a good moment to be patient, to connect the mind with the peace of nature, to look inward, and to reflect on the past while starting to dream of the future.
In Finnish language, January is called “tammikuu”, meaning the Oak Moon. In Finnish mythology the solid and majestic oak tree was the Tree of Life, on which the entire world, or the sky, rested. The starry sky above us rotated on this tree, which also opens a new cycle around the Sun.
In Roman mythology, January was dedicated to the god Janus. He was the god of new beginnings and endings, gates, transitions, and change. He was often depicted with two faces because he could look into both the past and the future simultaneously. Janus was celebrated in important beginnings of human life, such as weddings or the beginning of the planting and sowing season. Janus has also given the name to the first month of the year in many Germanic languages, such as English January or Swedish januari.
In some Native American languages January is called the Wolf Moon: the wolves are said to howl a lot at the beginning of the year. The mating season of wolves begins in February, and if we still lived in nature with enough wolf packs around us, we might hear them calling to each other in the darkness of the night.
January Ritual: Review of the past year’s events
Before starting anew, it is important to stay still like an oak tree and take a moment to look back at the past and understand the situation from which we enter the new year. Look both forward and backward, like the god Janus.
This is a simple tool that helps map out the most significant events of the past year. I do this exercise every year myself, and I can assure you that the tool opens up self-awareness really well. You probably know the saying “history repeats itself.” It may be true, but it primarily applies to those who do not stop and examine the past. If you give yourself a few hours each year and do this exercise thoroughly and honestly, you will surely learn more about yourself and your life than many others.
Allocate at least a few hours for the exercise. Take out your journal, calendar, photos, email, and social media – whatever are the places where you usually record or reflect on your most important life events. Write down the key highlights of the year in their respective places for each month and theme: important events, people, places, changes in finances, successes, and challenges.
When you are done, go through the contents of the paper either by yourself or with a friend or partner and see which themes and events stand out. What can you learn from last year? What do you want to repeat this year? What do you want to build and grow? And what do you want to reduce or avoid altogether this year?
Download a History Mapping template to give this some structure from here.
For more January and winter rituals, you can find them in my upcoming book, Timeless Nordic Rituals (coming in English later this year, and already available in Finnish at most libraries and bookstores).
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Wishing you a bright and peaceful January,