Year’s end

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

The winter solstice is upon us as I write this at the end of December — the longest night of the year, opposite the summer solstice in June, which has the longest daylight of the year. This is in contrast to the equinoxes, which are the days in March and September when there is equal day and night, hence the term “equinox.”

Traditionally, the spring equinox is the end of winter and the start of spring. The fall equinox is the end of summer and the start of autumn.

In a like manner, the December solstice is the start of winter and the June solstice the start of summer.

Knowing about how our calendars were established has been a source of interest to me. I hadn’t realized about how September, October, November and December were the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th months of the year originally, when the year began in March, even though they now are the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th months.

January was named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings.

February is for Februa, a festival of cleaning and washing.

March, for the god of war Mars, just as the planet Mars was named due to its reddish color. March was the month that wars resumed after much of winter had passed, during which time the Roman army held a truce.

April was named for Aprilis, from Latin “aperio,” meaning opening, for flowers blooming.

May, for Maio, goddess of nature and plants.

June, for Juno, goddess of love and marriage.

July, for Julius Caesar, whose birthday was during that month.

August, for Augustus Caesar.

In a similar manner, the planets’ names have ancient origins.

Mercury, for the god of the same name, the messenger, who was the fastest god, as Mercury is closest to the sun and revolves around the sun the fastest.

By the way, revolve is what the planets do around the sun; rotate is what each planet does on its axis. The planets, for the most part, rotate and revolve. Most planets rotate around a similar axis to their revolution around the sun. Neptune, however, rotates on an axis about 90 degrees to its plane of revolution.

Venus, for the goddess of beauty.

Earth, for ground.

Mars, after the Roman god of war, because its red color reminded them of blood.

Jupiter, after the god Zeus, king of all the gods, for the largest planet.

Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture.

Uranus, after an ancient Greek god.

Neptune, god of the sea.

Pluto, named after the god of the underworld, alas, has been reclassified.

The days of the week also have historical origins: Sunday for the sun, Monday for the moon, Tuesday for the god tiwesdaeg, Wednesday for the Anglo Saxon god woden (in Anglo-Saxon, it was wodnesdae), Thursday for the god thor, Friday for the god frigedaeg and Saturday for Saturn.

Interestingly, the names may be quite different in other languages. For instance, in French, Tuesday is “Mardi,” hence the term “Mardi Gras” or “Fat Tuesday.”

A happy and healthy new year to all!

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at

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