Why January Stinks

Why January Stinks January 10, 2013

Editor’s Note: I am thrilled to welcome John Mark Reynolds on board as a contributing writer to Philosophical Fragments. Dr Reynolds is founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, where he taught philosophy. Recently he became Provost at Houston Baptist University. He has authored and co-authored many books, and his essays on faith, culture, politics and various dimensions of geekery have been found at Washington Post “On Faith” as well as his own blog, Eidos. We hope to see his (original) posts here at Philosophical Fragments twice per week. Welcome, John Mark!


Whatever month might be the cruelest, January is certainly the saddest. Christmas, even stretched over Twelve Days, ends, there is no Monday Night football, and resolutions inevitably fail. December twinkles, January glares. The food that makes me jolly in December makes me fat in January.

Perhaps, however, January is no fouler than December; it just reaps December’s foul harvest. Bills deferred for the Holidays come due, but the overspending happened earlier. Some of what makes January hard is because December wasn’t hard enough!

But that is not all of it.

December culminates a long journey, at least for educators. The first day of school arrives in August or September, then come cooler fall days, football, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent, and then Christmas. The Church year, which starts around Advent, and the second great feast of the Church invaded even secular America.

We ignore Easter, perhaps because it has yet to be commercialized. That is good, but, oddly, commercial quietness does not descend on the nation on Easter as it does on Christmas. Most Americans don’t work on Christmas and the pace is slow on the days before and after the feast, but Easter gives us no such break. Scrooge stands as warning against work on Christmas, but no Dickens has yet arisen to lash those who work on Pascha or cause other men to do so.

The business of too much of America is business, but Christmas remains a holiday daring to claim the business of Americans should be higher things than commerce. January is a return to normalcy and American normalcy is not normal.

The Church says that today is a feast day, but for most of us there is no time. It is an odd result of secularism that we have been set free of fasting, but get less feasting.

Linus reminds us in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special of the true meaning of Christmas, but the deeper meaning of January is hard for me to hear. I refuse to celebrate a “new year” since there is nothing particularly great about a new year. 2013 also feels too much like 1913: a culture on the edge of destruction, looking for a party.

We will probably muddle through better than my great-grandparents’ generation did, but nobody parties over “muddling through” anymore than they rejoice in a draw. Does anybody spike the ball after a tie?

What is January for a Christian? January should be a time of revelation: a time to celebrate Christ coming to the Gentiles, being revealed in baptism, and in the uncreated Light of the Mount of Transfiguration.

It is true that culture will do nothing to encourage this reflection, but it doesn’t discourage it either. If my spiritual fathers and mothers could see God revealed in the gulag, surely I can find him in the cubicle!

Can I see the face of God in my coworkers? Can I sense the pure waters of Baptism in the rain falling in Houston?

Not really. Not on my own.

Heaven help me to see You without props, literature, song track, or film. I am weak and those tools helped me this Christmas, but now they are gone or faded. As I pause, just now, and open my eyes wide, not close them, I see You in January, the saddest month of all.

And after all, only three hundred and fifty-one days until Christmas! Christ came, is coming and will come again.

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