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Berger’s Burg: January does not always begin every new year

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"My goldfish died.""So why are you digging so deep?""Because the goldfish is in the cat!" Ouch!In most countries of the world, January is the first month on the calendar. It was named for the Roman god Janus, who was the god of beginnings, gates and doorways. He could have easily turned to a life of crime with these credentials, but he knew it was a more secure life as a god. And, besides, who would name a month after a criminal? Curiously, Janus had two faces. One faced the future, the other faced the past. It got so confusing that not one Roman in a hundred could tell if he was coming or going, except for Bernie, the Bill O'Reilly of his time.The Roman calendar at that time had only 10 months. Since this made for a short year, the wives of the Romans dreaded the thought of their birthdays rolling around so quickly. So, they persuaded their husbands to add an 11th month (Januarius).But the women were not too happy with the new month's position (set between August and September). So they tore the Januarius pages out of their calendars and pasted it at the beginning of the year, thus giving it the honor of being the first month. This was quite fitting. Who could ever imagine New Year's Day falling on the first day of Februarius?Several centuries later, in medieval, merry olde England, Januarius, or January, was called Wolf Month. This was because, during that month, hungry wolves entered the villages for lunch, and they usually stayed for dinner. No wonder every Englishman, uh, Englishwoman, uh, Englishperson, was happy to see Februaius, or February, roll around every year.In the northern part of the world (including TimesLedger country), the onset of winter usually brings cold and snowy weather in January. Some people like to go ice-skating and others, sledding. Me, I like to cuddle up with Gloria in our warm den and watch replays of the Giants' 1986 Super-Bowl victory.Conversely, in the southern part of the world, January weather is the exact opposite. The onset of summer usually brings warm and sunny days. Some people like to go swimming and others like barbecuing. Me, I like to cuddle up with Gloria on our patio, and watch replays of the Giants' 1986 Super Bowl victory. So you see, January is many things to many people.Did you also know that the calendar we use today is not the only one observed in the world? There is the Hebrew (Jewish) calendar that follows the moon and the sun. Its 12 months are based on the moon and a 13th month is added seven times every 19 years to keep the calendar in time with the seasons. Sundown designates a new day. Days are added or taken away to ensure that certain holy days do not fall on certain days of the week. As a result, a Hebrew year can be as short as 353 days or as long as 385 days. According to tradition, the Hebrew calendar started 3,700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Thus, 2005 is currently the Hebraic year of 5765. Their months do not coincide with the Western months and the Jewish year begins in September or October.The Muslims also use a calendar based on the moon. It has 12 months of 29 or 30 days. Days are added to keep the calendar in time with the moon, but not with the seasons. Because the Islamic year is only 354 or 355 days long, holidays move backward through the seasons. Each year, an annual holiday comes about 11 days sooner. But in 33 years, it will be back from whence it first began.Christian churches also use the moon to set holy days. Easter, for example, can fall any time from March 22 through April 25. The exact date depends on the moon.Moving right along, the Chinese calendar, which also follows the moon, divides the years into groups of 12. Each year is named for an animal. The first year is the Rat, followed by the Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster (this year), Dog, and Pig. What, no year to honor the Lobster, my favorite animal? Quick, Gloria, grab your hat and coat. We are going to the Whitestone Diner to honor my neglected lobster - with butter.There you have it. Don't you think this information is most useful? One never knows when one will be asked a question about January, does one? So prepare yourself Ð next week your boss may give you a quiz.At the start of every new year, I always relate an inspirational tale for my readers. Although the current story has been rattling around the Internet for some time, for those who haven't read it, it is well worth the effort:There once was a poor Scottish farmer named Fleming. One day, he heard a cry from a nearby bog. He ran over and found a terrified boy, mired to his waist in black muck, screaming and struggling to free himself. The farmer saved the lad.The next day, a nobleman arrived at the farmer's house. He introduced himself as the boy's father and said, "I want to repay you." The farmer declined the offer. "Then, let me provide your son with the same level of education my son will enjoy." The farmer accepted.The son went to the best schools, became a doctor, and Alexander Fleming became noted for the discovery of penicillin.Years later, the same nobleman's son was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time? Penicillin! The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son's name? Winston Churchill.The act of helping others opens doors you do not know you left open.Reach columnist Alex Berger at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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