History of February
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 near each other in a word.
The name 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, King Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome following Romulus, added the month to the original 10-month calendar back in 713 B.C. It had the distinction of being, until 450 B.C., the last month 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 important 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 (or Lunar New Year) is significant in Asia, and wherever Chinese people have migrated, about 25% of the planet observes this holiday.
- Groundhog Day or Candlemas is also known as St. Bridget’s Day.
- Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, usually occur in February.
- 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 central religious holiday Super Bowl Sunday, except this year when it falls on February 12.
- Presidents Day falls in February, combining Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays.
- For some computer software, February is the last month of the year. The year begins on March 1 and extends for 365 days until February 28, give or take a Leap Day. This considerably simplifies internal calendars that convert to Julian Day Number dates in the background (not related to the ancient Julian Calendar.) This eliminates the calendric changes like Leap Years or Leap Seconds that have occurred since “day zero” of the software.
Counterexample: Linux and its Unix relatives start their calendar on January 1, 1970, as their “day 0” even though versions of Unix appeared in the 1960s. It’s just that the date was programmed into the system sometime in the early ’70s only because it was convenient to do so.
So many things, such a short month.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
February is, without doubt, the longest month of the year!