Tuesday, January 30, 2007

February

Our calendar, like so much of our culture, is brought to us by the Roman Empire. Originally the Roman calendar was 304 days long followed by an unnamed and unnumbered "Winter Period". The months were all different lengths, and keeping track of the date was the responsibility of the priests. Like everyone else, they were corruptible and would often take bribes to make the months and years longer to keep politicians they liked in power longer. "Wow, it seems like it's been April for a really long time now!"
The calendar was reformed several times over the centuries. The first and most notable was by an early Roman king named
Numa Pompillius who ruled from 715-673 BC. He added the winter months of January (for Janus, the god of beginnings) and February (for feberes, to cleanse, for the purification rituals toward the end of winter). This addition displaced the other months so that September, October, November, and December which mean seven, eight, nine, and ten, no longer line up with their corresponding months. The second important calendar reform was introduced by Julius Caesar (100-44BC). He made the calendar 365 days with all months having either 30 or 31 days, eliminating the priestly temptation to change the length of months and years. When he died the name of the month of his birth was changed from Quintus to Julius, or July in his honor. Since this month was named for the divine Caesar, it was felt it should also be the longest. Therefore a day was taken out of February (giving it 29 days, 30 in a leap year) and added to July (giving it 31 days). Years later the next month was named August in honor of his successor Caesar Augustus, and another day was taken from February, giving it the current 28 or 29 days.
February is still the only month which changes its length every fourth year for Leap Year, which has widely been considered an unlucky year. In the US February is celebrated as Black History Month. Both Sweden (in 1700) and the Soviet Union (in 1929) tried adjusting the length of February to give it 30 days like the other months. As their calendars started to fall "out of sync" with the rest of the world, these attempts were quickly abandoned. US President George W. Bush once stated that the fiscal year ends on February 30. He misspoke, obviously because there is no February 30 (the fiscal year actually ends on September 30). Notable birthdays in February include George Washington (the 22nd) Abraham Lincoln (the 12th) Thomas Edison (the 11th) JS Bach (the 4th) and teen heartthrob Ashton Kutcher (the 7th). So stay warm, everyone, and have a happy February!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I realize this post is years old now, but in case anyone else reads it: Bach was born on March 21, not February 4.