Why Does February Only Have 28 Days?

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Nowadays, we know February for Valentine’s Day and its distinction as the only month with 28 days. Interestingly, February isn’t 28 days long for no reason. In fact, it took a long time and a lot of effort to get the month that way. It’s easy to take February for granted, and after learning about its long and complex history, you’ll surely appreciate it even more!

No Months in a Roman Winter

The calendar we’re so used to these days–you know, the one that runs through January to December–is the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in 1852. The Gregorian calendar was based on the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar, which was in turn based on the Roman calendar. While the exact origins of the Roman calendar are still fuzzy, it’s believed that it was based off the lunar cycle. Oddly, the Roman calendar originally included only 10 months, March through December. Because there was no harvest during the winter, this time was deemed less important and no months were assigned to it.

King Numa Changes Things

We owe the existence of January and February to Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, who added them to the calendar sometime around 700 BC. He gave January 29 days, while Feburary got 28 days. The number 28 was considered unlucky by the Romans, and February was assigned 28 days because it was the month of purification. In fact, the month’s name comes from the Roman festival of purification, called Februa.

355 Days Don’t Make a Year

At this point, the Romans were looking at a year that was 355 days long. Naturally, this isn’t in tune with how our planet revolves around the sun, and as a consequence, the timing of the months was thrown off. To solve this, every few years the Romans would add a 13th month, called the Mensis Intercalaris, which was 27 days long and took place after February. While this helped round out the year, the extra month wasn’t always instated consistently (especially for political reasons), leading to confusion among the masses.

Julius Caesar to the Rescue

It took a few hundred years, until the reign of Julius Caesar, to get all the messiness of February and the rest of the months cleared up. Apparently, it took quite the effort to get the year back to “normal,” as Caesar hired great thinkers to come up with a solution to the Roman calendar. Eventually, the think tank decided on a calendar that’s very familiar to ours, with about 365 days and 12 months. However, one nearly-unbelievable side effect was that the year 46 BC had to be 445 days long!

Don’t Forget Leap Day

Of course, February isn’t always 28 days long. Part of the reason so many generations struggled to find an accurate calendar is because, as we know now, a year isn’t exactly 365 days long. Rather, it’s almost 365 and a quarter days long. The Julian calendar accounted for this by introducing an extra day in February every four years, but it was still off because the year isn’t exactly 365 and a quarter days long. Finally, with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, it was decided that leap days would occur almost every four years, with an exception if the year is divisible by 400. It’s a little confusing, but hey, it works!

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