HISTORY OF FEBRUARY
February is the month we love to misspell, or at least mispronounce, but you’re forgiven for dropping the first “r” as dissimilation causes people to do that when there are two “r”s or “l”s in close proximity to each other in a word.
The word came from the Latin Februa an ancient Roman purification festival around the time of the full moon that lent its name to the Roman deity Februus. Februum in Latin means purification. You might think of it as early Spring Cleaning.
Originally the month was added by King Numa Pompilius to the original 10-month calendar back in 713 B.C. It had the distinction of being, until 450 B.C., the last day of the year, with March 1 being New Year, as I discussed previously. When Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 B.C., the month was assigned only 28 days (29 days in Leap Years).
You may recall the mnemonic:
Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November,
All the rest have thirty-one,
But February’s twenty-eight,
The leap year, which comes once in four,
Gives February one day more.
What significant things happen in this shortest month of the year?
- February 1 is celebrated as Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, regrettably limited to only one day a year.
- It’s also National Snack Food Month and National Chocolate Lovers Month for those with a sweet tooth.
- Because it’s also American Heart Month and National Dental Health Month, you might want to ignore the previous two bullets.
- President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month in 1976. But it was fifty years earlier in 1926 that Black leaders, including leader historian Carter G. Woodson of Howard University and West Virginia State University, dedicated the 2nd week to the history of African-Americans as Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb 12) and Frederick Douglass (Feb 14)
- Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is big in Asia, and where ever Chinese people have migrated to, about 20% of the planet observes this holiday. Expect travel changes this year in a Coronavirus world.
- Groundhog Day or Candlemas is also known as St. Bridget’s Day.
- St. Valentine’s Day, the $2.4B candy celebration (see Food above), falls on February 14.
- The first Sunday of the month, at least since 2002, is the major religious holiday Super Bowl Sunday, except this year when it falls on February 13.
- Presidents Day, combining Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays falls in February.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian