February has 28 days… But why?

Thirty days hath November, April, June, and September. February has 28 alone. All the rest have 31. This popular rhyme has been around since the 1500s. But, has anyone ever took the time to find out why February has only 28 days? It’s not something they teach in school. What mysteries lie in the month of February? What secrets does this short month keep?

Well, to make this story short… It’s the Romans’ fault. Our modern calendar is loosely based on their old, confusing one. Though records on the Roman calendar are sparse and sketchy at best, legend has it that Romulus, the first king of Rome, devised a 10-month lunar calendar that began at the spring equinox in March and ended with December.

Martius: 31 days
Aprilius: 30 days
Maius: 31 days
Junius: 30 days
Quintilis: 31 days
Sextilis: 30 days
September: 30 days
October: 31 days
November: 30 days
December: 30 days

Tally up those numbers, and you’ll see a problem—the year is only 304 days long. Back then, winter was a nameless, month-less period that no one cared for much. (Planters and harvesters used the calendar as a timetable. To them, winter was useless and wasn’t worth counting.) So for 61 days out of the year, Romans could ask “What month is it?” and you could correctly answer, “None!”

Rome’s second king, (King Numa Pompilius) decided to make the calendar more accurate by syncing it up with the actual lunar year (which is about 354 days). Pompilius added on two months(January and February) after December to account for the new days. The Romans believed even numbers were unlucky, so Numa tried to make each month odd. But to reach the quota of 355, one month had to be even. February ended up pulling the short stick, probably because it was simply the last month on the list. Numa’s calendar ended up looking like this:

Martius: 31 days
Aprilius: 29 days
Maius: 31 days
Iunius: 29 days
Quintilis: 31 days
Sextilis: 29 days
September: 29 days
October: 31 days
November: 29 days
December: 29 days
Ianuarius: 29 days
Februarius: 28 days

Of course, a 355-day calendar had its bugs. After a few years went by, the seasons and months would fall out of sync. So to keep things straight, the Romans had the brilliant idea to “occasionally” insert a 27-day leap month called Mercedonius. The Romans would erase the last couple days of February and start the leap month on February 24th. This caused headaches everywhere. The leap month was inconsistent, mainly because Rome’s high priests determined when it would arrive. Not only did they insert Mercedonius haphazardly, but the priests (being basically politicians at the time) abused the power, using it to extend the terms of friends and trim the terms of enemies.

In around 45 B.C., Julius Caesar commissioned an expert to put aside the lunar origins of the Roman calendar and make it sun-based, like the Egyptian one. Caesar added 10 days to the calendar year and an extra day in February every four years. (The leap-year day was inserted after the 23rd, the same time as the old intercalary month.) Now, the year averaged out to 365.25 days, very close to the actual average length of a year: 365.2425 days (and even that varies). But in order to get Rome on track with the Julian Calendar, the year 46 BCE had to be 445 days long!

After that, the world favored a 365 day calendar. And here we are over 2019 years later, still using the same calendar. At least… For now.

Written by Victor Fonseca
Ig: everyone_hates_victorfonseca

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