There is no denying that February is an odd little month. At just 28 days, it is by far the shortest out of the 12 months, and happens to be the one that adopts the leap day in order to keep our calendar in-time with the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. At Concord Academy, February’s relatively short length is welcome, as we all sprint towards spring break in March. More unwelcome is the biting cold weather it brings to those like us in the Northern Hemisphere, and the fact that the r comes after the b makes it quite difficult to spell. Why is February so set apart from the other months?
The history of our Gregorian calendar is complicated. The first iteration of the Roman Calendar (which is what the Gregorian calendar is based on) came about in 738 BCE, but February did not come about until nearly thirty years later in 713 BCE, when King Numa Pompilius decided to rectify the calendar’s fatal flaw: it only had ten months. The Romans had no need to keep track of the months once the agricultural season ended, so at the end of December there existed a slew of cold winter days until the first of March.
Pompilius added the months of January and February to rectify this issue and align the months to the 12 lunar cycles of the year. He made other changes to the calendar too, all in an effort to eliminate even numbers. At this time in Rome, there was a superstition that even numbers brought misfortune, so Pompilius sought to ensure there were an odd number of days in every month and an odd number of days in the entire year. Mathematically, this was impossible. If there are 12 months, one month must have an even number of days to achieve the desired odd number of days in the year. February was chosen to have this ‘unlucky’ number of days, because it was a miserable month in terms of weather, and also the time of year during which the Romans honored the dead.
Eventually, Julius Caesar came along and altered the calendar to mimic the Egyptian solar-based calendar, and now many other months have an even number of days. Even so, February, since its inception, has been the black sheep of its peers: it is both a time of remembrance and a time of freezing temperatures.