New Beginnings for the World

The first month of the year, January, is named for Janus, the Roman god. Janus, or Ianuarius, comes from the word "ianua," which is the Latin word for door or gate.

January is Thyroid Awareness Month. One in 10 Americans are affected by thyroid disease. That's more than cancer and diabetes combined. Half of those are not diagnosed. Most thyroid disease is detected with a simple blood test, and most are treated successfully with medications.

Louis Braille, the inventor of the Braille reading system for the blind, was born in January, which is why January was chosen to be National Braille Literacy Month. Louis went blind when he was three years old and invented the reading system when he was 15. He got the idea from a French military code which was used so that soldiers could communicate at night. The French code, known as "night writing," used 12 dots within a cell to signify letters. Louis realized that 12 dots were too many for the fingertip to feel in one touch, so he adapted the code to one with 6 dots. Braille has provided the blind with an opportunity to effectively communicate. It has also increased literacy among those who are visually impaired. Just about anything which is printed with letters is also available in Braille, including textbooks, the bible, menus, and IRS forms.

On January 1, 1892, Ellis Island officially opened its doors to immigrants to the United States as the country's first immigration station. That day, three ships were waiting to be allowed to land, and 700 immigrants passed through Ellis Island. The first to officially pass through was Annie Moore, a 15-year-old "rosy-cheeked Irish girl" from County Cork. In the first year, more than 400,000 people passed through the Island from their old lives into their new ones.

On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. Eleven months later, President Polk, speaking to Congress, confirmed the discovery of gold, and in very short order, more than 300,000 men, women, and children rushed to California in covered wagons, boat, and horseback, including tens of thousands of from South America, Central America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Known as "49ers," the prospectors initially panned for gold in streams and rivers. This discovery is what catapulted San Francisco from a small settlement to a boomtown as an important part of the gold rush infrastructure. In 1850, the state of California was admitted into the Union. While we usually think about all the men who were made rich, it is an oft-ignored fact that John Sutter, who owned Sutter's Mill, was ruined. His workers all left him to find gold, squatters overran his land, and his cattle and crops were routinely raided.

The "English Invasion" of the 20th century began in January of 1964, when the Beatles finally arrived in America. On January 3, The Jack Paar Show aired a months-old performance of "She Loves You" just as "I Want to Hold Your Hand" made #1 on the Australian charts. There are many who count their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9 of that year as the beginning of the invasion, but hard-core Beatles fans and chroniclers point out that they released their first album, "Meet the Beatles," to the United States on January 20.

And finally, George Orwell died on January 21, 1950. Described by some as a science fiction writer, and others as a social commentator (before that was popular), most agree that he was a visionary. He authored the prophetic novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" which was set in the future as Orwell wrote it, in a society where the protagonist, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth, altering and rewriting records, newspaper articles, and history books. The plot begins when Smith starts to think critically about the ruling dictatorship, known as Big Brother, and their abolition of individual expression. Words and terms from "Nineteen Eighty-Four" now pepper the English language, including "Big Brother," "doublespeak," "thoughtcrime," and of course, "Orwellian." But he also wrote several other literary gems, including "Animal Farm," which was nearly not published, as it was seen as an attack on the Soviet regime which was an ally of England in World War II. This book, which preceded "Nineteen-Eighty-Four" by several years, remains one of the most scathing critiques of the Russian Revolution and the corruption of socialist ideals in what was then the Soviet Union. Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair, was buried in a church graveyard at his request, despite his famous atheism. There is no mention of his pen name on his grave marker.

I had you fooled, didn't I? You thought I was going to wrap up this article without mentioning that January 1 is the celebration of the New Year's Day! Well, of course I have to mention it.

According to the Gregorian calendar, the New Year begins on January 1 of each year. It is a holiday in all nations which recognize it as such, except for Israel.

Celebrated with fireworks and kissing at the stroke of midnight, New Year's Day is also the day when people come up with New Year's resolutions: things that they wish to change in their lives, beginning that very day. Studies suggest that only 40 to 45% of adult Americans bother to make resolutions in this day and age, and less than 46% of those actually keep their resolutions for more than 6 months. While some argue that the tradition is self-defeating, experts say that it is a good tradition, as it brings to mind that a person is trying to change, and that repeatedly targeting the habit or behavior that is addressed in the resolution is helpful toward a final victory.

Of course, the observance of New Year's Day is better known for hangovers and football games. The Pasadena Tournament of Roses parade is followed by the Rose Bowl football game, a tradition which began in 1887. Other college games played this day include bowl games in Florida, such as the Orange Bowl, played in Miami; the Citrus Bowl in Orlando; the Gator Bowl, in Jacksonville; and the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Many of the other New Year's Day bowls have been moved to other dates in recent years, much to the consternation of avid football fans.

People who were born in January include Betsy Ross and Paul Revere, who were both born on January 1. Also celebrating birthdays in this month were J.R.R. Tolkien, J. Edgar Hoover, Mel Gibson, Stephen Hawking, Alexander Hamilton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Muhammad Ali, Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe, Martin Luther King, William McKinley and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Additional resources for January:

  • Thyroid Awareness – Information and resources to help readers understand the role of the thyroid gland, how to identify the risk for thyroid disease, how to best treat a diagnosed condition, and how to best keep your thyroid in balance.
  • Florida Division of Blind Services: Braille Facts – Basic information on the history and creation of Braille, what it is, what it looks like and how it is written.
  • Ellis Island – Comprehensive destination for The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Search for passengers on the ships that entered the Port of New York from 1892-1924, trace your genealogy, and purchase gifts.
  • The Beatles – Hub chronicling the history The Beatles while also offering news of current events, and information about their albums, films and band members.