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  • Writer's pictureAnne Hartley

Here Comes February

Well January 2023 is behind us now. Here comes February 2023. Each month in the modern Gregorian calendar consists of at least 28 days. That number would be a nicely rounded 30 were it not for February. While every month besides the second in the calendar contains at least 30 days, February falls short with 28 (and 29 on a leap year). So why is the most widely used calendar in the world so inconsistent in the lengths of its months? And why is February stuck with the fewest number of days? Blame it on Roman superstition.

February is a terrible month. By the time it arrives, we’re sick of the cold, sick of our winter clothes, and in many cases, just plain old sick. Fortunately, it’s a short month—just 28 days. But why? Turns out, it’s not because everyone in the history of the human race has hated February. The month’s quirky timing dates back to the 10-month Roman calendar, which began in March and ended in December. That’s right. For a while, January and February didn’t even exist. To the Romans, who made their lot by planting and harvesting, winter was a nameless, dateless slog. For part of the year, there was literally no system for keeping track of the days. By the time the second king of Rome took the throne around 750 BC, the Romans decided to add two more months to their year in order to sync their calendar more accurately with the 12 lunar cycles. These two months January and February—had 28 days each, until the king decided to add an extra day to January to make the year 355 days long. Even numbers were considered unlucky at the time, and a 354-day year was unacceptable. The calendar still had its flaws. Following the lunar cycle worked well for a few years, but soon the seasons became out of sync with their typical months. To fix it, the Romans added a leap month called Mercedonius. Rome’s high priests would decide when the month would arrive, and no one else in the city could keep track of what day it was. When Julius Caesar took power, he reconfigured the entire thing again and aligned the length of the year with the sun, so that each year would add up to 365 days. For some reason, he left February at 28 days. And you know what? I totally agree with that arbitrary decision. February should always be as short as possible; no one likes it that much anyway. February comes from the Latin word februa, which means “to cleanse.” The month was named after the Roman Februalia, which was a month-long festival of purification and atonement that took place this time of year. February 29th is a special day for some people. That’s because it’s their birthday! If you were born on February 29th, then you celebrate your birthday every four years. The reason for this is because February 29th is not a regular day. It’s a leap day, which means that it’s added to the calendar every four years. If you're stuck with a February 29 birthday, I am sorry. The day only exists in a leap year, which has 366 days instead of 365, meaning your "real" birthday only occurs once every four years. Your Sweet Sixteen is more accurately a Fabulous Four. And if you're turning 21? Well, you're actually still just five. At least if you're dreading the big 4-0, though, you can take solace in knowing that you're a mere 10-year-old, in a sense. While strange and annoying for those afflicted. But every year you still get older. Dates to remember: February 2 is Groundhog Day—the day we find out whether winter will last six more weeks or call it quits early. February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday. The 16th president of the United States. February 14 is Valentine’s Day. February 15 is Susan B. Anthony’s Birthday. February 15 is National Flag of Canada Day! February 20 is Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday also known as Washington’s Birthday that is celebrated on the third Monday in February. (George Washington’s actual birthday is February 22!) February 21 is Mardi Gras, (aka “Fat Tuesday” or Shrove Tuesday), which is the final feasting day before the Christian tradition of Lent begins on the following day, Ash Wednesday. February 22 is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent. February 27 is Clean Monday. Also called Pure Monday, this day marks the beginning of Great Lent for followers of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. This day is similar to Ash Wednesday of the Western Church. Zodiac Signs for February: Aquarius (January 20–February 19) and Pisces (February 20–March 20) Even though so many roses are sold during February due to Valentine’s Day, the Violet and the Primrose are the symbolic flowers. The violet signifies watchfulness, loyalty, and faithfulness. Give a violet to someone to let them know that you’ll always be there for them. The primrose lets someone know that you can’t live without them. Like the violet, February’s birthstone is a purple color. It’s the beautiful amethyst. This gem is a form of quartz; it can range from a pale lilac color to a deep, rich purple. The name is based on a Greek myth that speaks of a nymph named Amethyst who was inadvertently turned into white stone; in remorse, the Greek god Bacchus poured wine over her to turn her a beautiful purple. The amethyst was thought to prevent intoxication and keep its wearer thinking sharply. It was worn by English royalty in the Middle Ages.

Useless Facts:

1. The Saxons called February “Sol-monath” which means “cake month,” because they would offer cakes to the gods during February.

2. Of all the words you can misspell, February is one of the most misspelled words in the English language. Even the White House has misprinted the word “February” before in a press release!

3. February is the only month where it’s possible to go the entire time without having a full moon.

4. The odds of being born on February 29th are about 1 in 1,461. Those born on a leap day can be called a “leaper” or “leapling.”

5. February, March, and November always start on the same day of the week unless it is a leap year.

6. It was in February 1964 when The Beatles made their first American television appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Over 73 million Americans watched!

7. There are many U.S. states that entered the Union during the month of February. These include Massachusetts, Oregon, Arizona, and Mississippi, which were readmitted.

8. Sadly, on February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle “Columbia” broke apart in flight, which killed all seven crew members. The accident was believed to be a result of damage that occurred during lift-off. The tragedy occurred only 16 minutes before the shuttle was scheduled to land.

9. On February 2, 1848, U.S. and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended their war. The U.S. paid Mexico $15 million in exchange for California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas.


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