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The long and short of February

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Days to count Short and sweet February
Days to count Short and sweet February

Thought for the day All about mystic February

‘Why, what's the matter,

That you have such a February face,

So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?'

William Shakespeare certainly does not seem to be paying a compliment to February in ‘Much Ado About Nothing!'

February – is the odd one out.

W hen there are – not one, not two – but seven months hoarding 31 days each, why should one isolated month be left with just 28 days? If leap year has an extra day, how did the second (and not the last) month qualify for this bonus?

And, is it true that there was a time when February did not even exist?

The history

Way back in 700 BC, the first Roman king Romulus adapted the Greek calendar with some modifications. Calendars in those days were to guide people's chief occupation, agriculture. The 10-month Roman calendar of 304 days began at the spring equinox in March and ended in December. The Romans were not very fussy about the missing 61 days between December and March because of the inactivity during those cold winter days. So, the second king Numa Pompilius began to address the problem of synchronising the lunar month of 29.5 days with the solar year of 365.25 days. He added January and February, making 12 lunar cycles but still the total was only 355. The balance 10, 11 days were put in the form of an extra month Mercedinus which was added after February every alternate year. To borrow Dr. J. R. Stockton's words, ‘February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March.'

Thus, for a few more centuries, the Roman calendar was from March to February.

When Julius Caesar entered the scene he introduced the Julian calendar with twelve months and 365.25 days. February now had 29 days. However, this calendar fell short of the solar year by roughly six hours. Every four years, this became February's gain.Some believe that Augustus Caesar plucked one day from February to make August, the month in his honour, on par with July – Julius Caesar's month.

Corrections made to Julian calendar in 1852 AD gave us today's Gregorian calendar.

Significance of Name

Romans performed purification ritual ‘februa,' on the 15th of the last month of the year. This month was named February from the Latin ‘februaris.'

It is not any fourth year that grants February the 29th day. It should be divisible by 4. Also, years divisible by 100 are not leap years unless they are divisible by 400. For instance, 2000 was a leap year but 2100 would not be.

The Thirty-first of February

This attention-grabbing title was used by novelist Julian Symons for a psychological thriller well televised in 1963 as an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

An Ohio gravestone proclaims 31st Feb, 1869, as the death date while one in Oxford has 31st Feb, 1835, on it.

And, William O'Malley, a politician in Ireland had his birth certificate made for Feb 31st, 1853.

Generally, the non-existent date February 31st is employed to highlight the unreal nature of the data offered.

But February did have 30 days in 1712 when the Swedish Empire corrected its earlier mistakes.

How about a new calendar

What if we had 13 months with 28 days? That would leave us with one extra day every year and two in the leap year. Wouldn't that be far less complicated? Then, February would not be drawing the short straw.

To ancient Romans, this icy period might have been cheerless but Indian February is a pleasant affair with chilly winter receding and summer yet to set in. For many, it is ‘the shortest and the sweetest' month!

INUMELLA SESIKALA

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