All About The Month of February

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February Holiday Guide | All About February

February, the shortest month of the year at 28 days, is also the only month whose length sometimes changes from one year to the next. Since the human calendar does not quite match the amount of time it takes for the Earth to go around the sun completely, it's necessary to add an extra day every four years so that the calendar won't shift away from where the months are supposed to fall. Without this extra day, the calendar would eventually 'drift' so far that Christmas would come in summer and there would be snow in July. This day is attached to February, and years when February is 29 days long are called "leap years."

February has always been a variable-length month in European calendars. Back in the days of the Roman emperors, leap years weren't used, so when the calendar got too out of sync with the actual weather, January would be shortened to 23 or 24 days and an extra month called Intercalaris was added to make up the right amount of time. Why February is not only the shortest month, but the one that always has a changeable length regardless of the calendar system, is unclear - perhaps because it is the boundary between winter and spring, and really doesn't seem to fit neatly into any season.

The changing weather in February - with warmer and then colder days - caused the Finns to give this month a very poetic name. They noticed how thawed snow refreezes into round, shimmering bits of ice on the ends of twigs and branches, and thought these ice drops look like pearls. So, in Finnish, February is called "Helmikuu," which means "Pearl Month."

Two of the most famous holidays of the month, St. Valentine's Day and Groundhog Day, both have very strange stories associated with them.

St. Valentine's Day, the holiday that people think of as the holiday of love and romance, is actually associated with love because of a centuries-old mistake, with people confusing two different St. Valentines who are totally different from each other, and celebrating the holiday on the "wrong" day. The St. Valentine's Day that comes on February 14th is actually the day honoring an early Christian saint who was martyred by a late Roman emperor. Nothing is known about him except his name.

The St. Valentine who the day is actually named for was an Italian bishop, whose "saint's day" is May 2nd. King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia were engaged to be married on May 2nd, the Feast of St. Valentine's, in 1381. The medieval English poet Chaucer wrote a poem about this marriage, and people reading the poem confused the two St. Valentines. They started celebrating love and romance almost three months too early because of one of history's longest-running cases of mistaken identity.

Groundhog Day, made famous by the antics of the roly-poly groundhog dubbed Punxsutawney Phil, is another strange February holiday that may be based both on a mistake and an old European legend. Pagan legends from long ago in Europe have vague references to a sacred bear coming out of his den to decide if winter will end yet or not. The modern groundhog is supposed to go back into his burrow if there are going to be six more weeks of winter - and Groundhog day is celebrated exactly six weeks before the Spring Equinox in the old Julian calendar, which was replaced in modern times by the different Gregorian calendar. So, Groundhog Day seems to be a holiday made up of a legend about a sacred bear, and people's confusion about different calendar systems, some of which weren't very accurate.

February may not see many strange natural events, but it is a month when humans seem to be very confused about times and people - and this has led to it being the only month that changes length from year to year, and the one with very odd holidays that are based mostly on mistakes and confusion.