We are now in the shortest month of the year.
Here in 2024, it’s a little less short than usual, but in most years the second month in the calendar is just 28 days.
No other month is under 30 days long.
That’s because of the Romans, who had… reasons.
Just a reminder that the calendar year is supposed to mark the time that it takes for the earth to orbit the Sun, while months of the year are generally meant to mark the time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth.
But the Roman calendar was designed around planting and harvesting crops, so they only named ten months.
The two lunar cycles that happened when it was too cold for farming didn’t get names.
(On the plus side, they probably couldn’t schedule meetings in unnamed months.)
The guy who filled in the blanks on that calendar was Numa Pompilius, who we think became king of the city of Rome in 715 BCE.
This is around the time when February got its name; februarius mensis is the Latin term for “purification month.”
It was also the time that Romans honored the dead.
So February is partly the shortest month because by the time it came along, all the other months had taken their shares of days and there were only so many more left.
But the other reason was part of a superstition.
The old calendar was 304 days long, with six months of 30 days, four months of 31, and that unnamed extra period.
But by the time Numa Pompilius was king, Romans thought that even numbers were bad luck.
The months that were 31 days long could stay as they were, but the king shortened all the 30 day months to 29 days.
Under that system, the total number of days in the year was (gasp) an even number!
Numa Pompilius shortened February to 28 days, figuring it was better to have one even-numbered month than a full year that was even.
The second month of the year has stayed that way ever since, except for leap years, one very unusual February in Sweden back in 1712, and during one other calendar anomaly.
That 12 month Roman calendar wasn’t quite long enough to match the solar year, so after a while the seasons would start to get out of sync.
The Romans would get back in sync by adding a kind of leap month, called Mercedonius.
This bonus month would start on February 24, making the shortest month of the year even shorter.
When in Rome, track months as the Romans do.
Today in 1966, the birthday of the one and only Rick Astley, who lives up to the words in his hit song “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Back in 2018, a singing group in Toronto called Choir! Choir! Choir! wanted to sing the song, and they invited Rick Astley to stop by and sing along with them.
And he actually did!
He knows the game and he’s gonna play it.
Why does February have 28 days? (BBC Sky At Night)