Why is February Such a Short Month?

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A question came up during dinner a few nights ago: why is February such a short month. You can “search it up,” as my five year old likes to say, on your search engine of choice and get lots of interesting answers. In particular, I like this one from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

The Gregorian calendar’s oldest ancestor, the first Roman calendar, had a glaring difference in structure from its later variants: it consisted of 10 months rather than 12. In order to fully sync the calendar with the lunar year, the Roman king Numa Pompilius added January and February to the original 10 months. The previous calendar had had 6 months of 30 days and 4 months of 31, for a total of 304 days. However, Numa wanted to avoid having even numbers in his calendar, as Roman superstition at the time held that even numbers were unlucky. He subtracted a day from each of the 30-day months to make them 29. The lunar year consists of 355 days (354.367 to be exact, but calling it 354 would have made the whole year unlucky!), which meant that he now had 56 days left to work with. In the end, at least 1 month out of the 12 needed to contain an even number of days. This is because of simple mathematical fact: the sum of any even amount (12 months) of odd numbers will always equal an even number — and he wanted the total to be odd. So Numa chose February, a month that would be host to Roman rituals honoring the dead, as the unlucky month to consist of 28 days.

Thanks for indulging that rather lengthy quote.

My oldest posited another question: why don’t we just borrow a couple of days from a few 31-day months so February can be a normal month like all the rest?

The calendar as it is today has been that way for more than 2,000 years.

It’s a valid question. What if the year were structured like this:

  • January, February, March, April, October, November, and December would get 30 days
  • May, June, July, August, and September would get 31 days
  • On Leap Year, April would gain a 31st day

In this fashion, all the winter months would be the short months (well, in the Northern hemisphere anyway).

Obviously, there would be the significant hurdle of updating computer systems across the globe to work with the new months. However, we survived Y2K without world markets crashing down around us, so computer programmers should be able to figure it out, right?

Who’s with me? I think it’s time for a movement. #FreeFebruary

Married to my best friend. Father to five exuberant children. Fledgling entrepreneur. Writer. Software developer. Inventory management expert.

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