February

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February is the second month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is the shortest month and the only month with fewer than 30 days. The month has 29 days in leap years, when the year number is divisible by four (except for years that are divisible by 100 and not by 400 in the Gregorian calendar). In common years the month has 28 days.

History

February was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification, via the purification ritual Februa held on February 15 in the old Roman calendar. January and February were the last two months to be added to the Roman calendar, since the Romans originally considered winter a monthless period. They were added by Numa Pompilius about 700 BCE. February remained the last month of the calendar year until the time of the decemvirs (c. 450 BCE), when it became the second month. At certain intervals February was truncated to 23 or 24 days and a 27-day intercalary month, Intercalaris, was inserted immediately after February to realign the year with the seasons. Under the reforms that instituted the Julian calendar, Intercalaris was abolished, leap years occurred regularly every fourth year (after a few years of confusion), and in leap years February gained a 29th day. Thereafter, it remained the second month of the calendar year, meaning the order that months are displayed (January, February, March, …, December) within a year-at-a-glance calendar. Even during the Middle Ages, when the numbered Anno Domini year began on March 25 or December 25, February continued to be the second month whenever all twelve months were displayed in order. The Gregorian calendar reforms made slight changes to the system for determining which years were leap years and thus contained a 29-day February.

Historical names for February include the Anglo-Saxon terms Solmonath (mud month) and Kale-monath (named for cabbage) as well as Charlemagne's designation Hornung. In Finnish, the month is called helmikuu, meaning "month of the pearl"; when snow melts on tree branches, it forms droplets, and as these freeze again, they are like pearls of ice. In Ukrainian, the month is called лютий meaning the month of ice or hard frost.

Patterns

February starts on the same day of the week as both March and November in common years, and August in leap years.

Having only 28 days in common years, it is the only month of the year that can pass without a single full moon. It is also the only month of the calendar that once every six years and twice every 11 years, will have only four full 7-day weeks. Where the first day of the month starts on a Sunday and the last day ends on a Saturday, this was observed in 2009 and can be traced back 11 years to 1998, another 11 years back to 1987, and 6 years back to 1981; and so on twice 11 years consecutively and once six years either forward into the future or back into the past, unless the pattern is broken by a skipped leap year, but no leap year has been skipped since 1900 and no others will be skipped until 2100. A year of this kind would be a common year starting on Thursday. It cannot happen in a leap year. 2004, which was a leap year, would have observed this format had it been a common year,

Events in February

February symbols

Further reading

  • Anthony Aveni, "February's Holidays: Prediction, Purification, and Passionate Pursuit," The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 29-46.

References

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.