Except February Which Stands Alone

Posted: Feb 28, 2011 8:55 AM
Except February Which Stands Alone

Why does February only have 28 days - not just one, but two or three fewer than all of its monthly cousins?

I saw "The King's Speech" yesterday at the 12:30 showing playing at the Old Town Theater. The Old Town Theater is unique in that the posted starting time of a movie is often but a suggestion because the staff may still be selling tickets and refreshments before running upstairs to crank up the projector at the appointed time.

Also, among the refreshments they sell is wine. I think drinking red wine while eating Goobers (chocolate-covered peanuts) and awaiting the start of a Harry Potter movie may be as close to heaven on earth as anyone needs to be.

Certainly as close as I need to be.

Anyway in the early days of the Roman Empire the year only had 10 months. There was no January and no February. There is some suggestion that months were only useful for keeping track of planting and reaping and inasmuch as neither of those happened during the dead of winter there wasn't any need to name the period between December - the 10th (Dec) month - and March which was named for the god Mars. Or maybe it was the candy bar.

Back in the day, the year was based on the movements of the moon which, as we know from trying to track everything from when Easter will be to Passover to Ramadan, it is a pretty dicey way to decide when to plant the wheat year after year.

According to a 1987 column by Cecil Adams which is part of his 38-year-old "The Straight Dope" series, in about the 8th century BC a Roman Emperor named Numa Pompilius added January and February to the calendar to fill in the blanks.

Sort of like what I always suspected Rand McNally did when they filled up that embarrassing open spot on the map of the United States by naming it North Dakota.

There was a lot of juggling with the calendars back then because the year had about 355 days and we now know that there are about 365.25 days in a solar year. February was used (as it still is) to balance out the year - often adding as many days as necessary to February so that March would start when March was supposed to start.

There came a time when someone, probably Augustus Caesar, decided that he needed a month named for him, just as Julius Caesar had done with the month previously known as Quintilis for the fifth month (starting, remember, from March). Sextilis, the sixth month, was renamed August.

Good thing Sid Caesar never thought he needed his own month.

The Romans believed even numbers were bad luck so a bunch of these months had 31 days. According to Adams' version, August was stuck with 30 days (an even number) so they borrowed one from February's 29 and gave it to August.

I have no idea if any of this is even close to being true, but I do know that "The King's Speech" was a great movie except for Timothy Spall, who played Winston Churchill. He also played Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter movies and I couldn't mentally make the transition.

Probably needed another glass of wine. Or another box of Goobers.

Can't wait for my column on why March fourth is known as "Command Day!"