January is the best month of the year because January is honest. It doesn’t lie to you and it doesn’t let you lie to yourself.
It starts not at midnight on New Year’s Eve – that tired final festive fling that no one needs – nor on the fug of New Year’s Day, when you might manage to struggle to the corner shop, dodging the broken glass and the strange quiet outside.
No, it’s in your first week back at work, when you wake to hear the rain against the bedroom window, and it’s still dead-of-night dark, save for the light of your phone or your SAD lamp (which uses light therapy to imitate summer sunshine) that the month properly begins.
Picture yourself two weeks ago, in the frenzy of the pre-Christmas supermarket. Pausing for breath in some untenanted space by the canned mackerel you looked on at hundreds of others, tethered to their trollies, all as stressed and anxious as you, emptying the shelves like a plague of depressed locusts, not so much rapacious as unhappily deranged, and pondering dalliances with disgusting festive food such as black forest gateau porridge and Christmas pudding-flavour cheese, and liqueurs that save you the bother of binge-drinking by tasting like puke to begin with.
After such self-defeating indulgence, now is the time to restore order and purpose: thoughts turn to property, career, ambition – those higher-level distractions – and to your health. These thoughts come not because you will them into being with noisy resolutions but because you need them. You have spent a month, if not longer, doing exactly as you please – working little and carousing lots – and have come out of it bloated and bored. As such there is no need, as many do, to make January a secular Lent, for Dry January or Veganuary and other half-arsed vows of short-term abstinence and long-term gym contracts. In any case, as anyone who observes Lent or many other religious festivals might tell you, the abstinence should come before the feast, not afterwards: there is no discipline in repenting gluttony.
It is not a time of renewal but of auditing, of stark self-assessment. It says, here are the facts: you live in a broken country in the dank, black, occasionally frozen north. You have much to do, and very little to spare. How you thought you could waste your time and resources panic-buying crap your friends and family don’t need it does not know, because you last got paid on 18 December and now you’ve got to eke out whatever is left from your pointless-crap-buying until the end of the month.
If you can make it through those first days, however, it’s a good time to support your local pub – which a month ago was five deep at the bar – with a quiet, civilised drink, because most of the Dry January bores will be away. If you can stretch to it, it’s also a wonderful time to support a local restaurant desperate for your business.
January offers no false narrative of hope, about you or the world around you, but hope it eventually brings: towards the month’s end, on a bright, clear day, there will be no mistaking it, that slowly, ever so, the light is coming back, and that in the bracing chill of the winter sunshine you can feel the coming spring.