February is a notable and complicated month in several ways.
The obvious difference is that it’s shorter. While all the others contain at least 30 days, it falls short with 28 (and 29 in a leap year).
February is notable to me for personal reasons, and while I was contemplating that, I began to wonder more about this odd month in general.
I found a somewhat confusing mix of science, history, and superstition. I’m sharing some of it with you, but please don’t think I speak as an authority on the subject. If your interest is piqued, I encourage you to do some digging on your own - it is fascinating!
As I dug in a little on this anomaly of a month, once called Februarius but that we know as February, I was reminded, that a year, according to the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII and a modification of the Julian calendar, which itself was a modification of the Roman calendar, is 365 days and is based on how long it takes the Earth to orbit the sun.
BUT, and here the trickiness begins, Earth’s orbit isn’t exactly 365 days.
It’s actually closer to 365.25 days.
That necessitates the addition of a “leap day” every few years, otherwise the calendar would be off by five hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds more each year. And after 100 years of that, the seasons would be off by 25 days - or almost a whole month!
Leap day falls, generally every four years, to keep us lined up with the seasons.
(But not every four years - alert - more complications ahead!)
Follow this link to find out why
That explains why we need a leap day, but why in February? And not a different month?
Interestingly, the Roman calendar - the original ancestor of our current calendar - was based on the Calendar of Romulus, a 10 month lunar calendar, that kicked the year off in March (with the vernal equinox) and ended in December.
January and February didn’t even exist!
That left approximately 60 days of winter unaccounted for on the calendar. It continued this way for a time because, as some say, a people of planters and harvesters, winter was considered a “useless” time and hardly worth noting anyway.
Then around 738 BC, King Numa thought it ridiculous to continue ignoring a sixth of the year and added January and February. (For a while they were actually at the end of the year.) And in keeping with superstitious Roman belief that even numbers were unlucky, most of the months had 29 days, a couple had 31, and leaving only February with a bad luck 28.
That got the calendar to twelve months, but only 355 days. So, for a long time a leap month called Mercedonious was added every two or three years to catch up.
But according to timeanddate.com, “By custom, the insertion of the leap month was initiated by the pontifex maximus, the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. However, this system was vulnerable to abuse. Since the Roman calendar year defined the term of office of elected officials, a pontifex maximus was able to control the length of his term simply by adding a leap month.”
(Does politics ruin everything? Sure makes me wonder . . .)
Then in 46 BC when Julius Caesar became pontifex maximus, he did away with Mercedonius instead adding days to the twelve standard months leaving them similar to what we're familiar with. Well, except February had 29, with one day in leap years, and Sextilus had 30.
But we had the current 365 and 366 in leap years anyway.
His successor Augustus Caesar, and adopted son, renamed the month Quintilus to July in honor of Julius and Sextilus to August after himself. Oh . . . and stole a day from February to add to “his” month increasing it to 31 to be equal to Dad's!
That left February with 28 - 29 in leap year - and a yearly tally of 365 days. I didn’t find an actual reason for leap day to be in February other than one suggestion that maybe it was by default simply because it was the last month added, or maybe since there had to be an unlucky month, it was better to add the extra day to the shortest month.
However, February isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s also the month when we begin to receive at least
10 hours of daylight per day, again.
According to the Greek myth of Persephone & Hades, this is the time that Persephone comes back to her mother Demeter the goddess of agriculture, from her annual season in the underworld with her husband Hades.
And as Demeter's sadness lifts, the growing season restarts.
Welcome back Persephone!
February is the thing before the thing.
The ten hours is significant because that approximate amount is just enough to increase photosynthesis in plants so that new green growth can happen. Under that threshold, growth slows way down, and plants basically sit in limbo using their stores of energy to maintain the growth they already have until there’s once again enough to support more.
The increase in daylight gets the growing season revved up for spring, a time of fast lush vegetative growth!
It's a big deal for us all and signals the coming of healthy fresh lettuces and other greens along with abundant pastures for animals.
The mere basics of February origins and significance is complicated in and of itself.
A possibly unlucky month
with a changing number of days, depending on the year,
that’s an afterthought added to make the other months line up.
Yet, one that also heralds increased daylight, plant growth, and warmth.
Yes, February is messy.
For our family, it gets even more complicated as February is both a month of celebration and sadness.
Along with having Valentine’s Day to celebrate our relationships, there are several family birthdays including my mom’s, Bill’s dad’s, sister’s, and niece’s.
And there’s also Bill and my wedding anniversary. (We picked the day after Valentine’s to help Bill remember it - lol!) This year marks 25 years for us. Or in other words, long enough that the line between before and after we met has become blurred in our memories. We say things to each other like, “We were together when such and such happened - weren’t we? Or was that before you?
Bill actually calls it B.S. - Before Stacey”
Our wedding was a fun day. We’d waited four years to have it and enjoyed the day without any reservations about solidifying our future together. We ate, danced, and visited, with many friends and relatives. It was beautiful - sunny and cold, but not too cold - and ended with a magical snowfall at midnight.
I felt like a princess. And when I looked at Bill throughout the day, his handsome and happy face confirmed to me that he felt lucky also, if not specifically a princess!
It was even ended up being a prophetic day for our future. One of our gifts was a recipe book from family friends Linda and Mark of Sunporch Cafe and Moen Creek Cottage Farm fame printed for the CSA coalition now known as FairShare - - the first edition of “from Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce.
Linda decorated the Beet page for us saying,
“Some couples have a “Song.” We suggest a vegetable -- the BEET. Its heart shape and rich red color make it perfect for your Valentine marriage. Solid, sturdy roots are balanced by exuberant leaves dancing in the sun. We advise you to plant beets for a long and happy marriage.”
It was years before we became - or even realized we’d someday become - dedicated vegetable farmers and members of FairShare ourselves and would be selling the next editions of that cookbook along with our produce!
As you can see from the photo, the book, with its bent corners and food stains, has been well used these many years.
Happy days, but February is also the month we lost my dad to suicide. It was eight years ago. A family milestone that’s forever entwined with those celebratory days, and the month itself, in a complicated mess of emotions and memories.
Fun, guilt, joy, wistfulness, regret, melancholy, happiness, laughter, sadness, and pain all stirred together in a big bowl of feelings is as close a description as I can come to. We never feel quite sure which spoonful we'll ladle out.
Thankfully, the feelings aren’t usually as intense, or ”spicy” to continue the analogy, as they used to be. And that helps but doesn’t always protect us against the difficult challenge of accepting them.
Reflecting on them all and what February represents for us, I’m quickly overcome with gratitude for my mom, dad, and sisters, for Bill, our marriage and children, for our friends, neighbors, and farm members, and for the chance to serve others with our work.
And also for the many happy memories of my dad. But I never stop missing him terribly. As my sister Lauren advised when we spread his ashes, I consciously refuse, every day, but especially in February, to let his life be defined by its ending.
It was so much more.
Yeah, February is complicated in many ways.
But no more than life is for any of us. And I can no more blame it on February than the Romans could blame
bad luck on uneven numbers.
There aren’t any guarantees in life but one – that it, life, will end.
And we don’t know the experiences that lay ahead. The best we can do is accept them like we accept leap days whenever they come and cherish the preciousness of each one. Because, even though we sometimes forget, each one,
just like every day is significant.
Take one day out of the month, and the year isn’t a year. Take one experience from a life, and we aren’t “us” anymore. The picture is no longer complete. Important to remember when overwhelmed by feeling all the feels.
Here’s to February, and to each one of our lives, in all their complicated glory.
And once again, thank you for sharing the journey with us.