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Why does February only have 28 days?

By Lauren AguirreFebruary 24, 2017

Calendar February
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Our calendar is 365 days long. Most of the months have either 30 or 31 days, but February only has 28 (and 29 on leap years). Why is February so much shorter? Because of the Romans.

The modern Gregorian calendar has origins back in the Roman Empire. Calendars were originally devised as a way to keep track of the harvest. The original Roman calendar only had 10 months. There were no official months between December and March, leaving about 60 days with no designated months at all. Later on, they added January and February to make the calendar sync with the 354-day lunar year. Each of new months had 28 days.

However, the Romans regarded even numbers as unlucky so an extra day was added to January. No one knows for sure why February was still stuck at 28 days. Some speculate that this was because the Romans honored the dead and performed rites of purification in February. In fact, the world februare in Latin means “to purify” in the dialect of the ancient Sabine tribe.

But this new 355-day calendar couldn’t say in sync with the real seasons. To resolve this issue, the Romans added an extra month into the calendar every other year. This month was called Mercedonius and it lasted between 22 and 23 days. But very confusingly, it was usually inserted after 23rd day of February. And to make things more confusing, some officials didn’t insert this month on time every year it was supposed to occur. As you can imagine, some officials would take advantage of the system to give them more time in office.

 

Julius Caesar instituted a calendar system very similar to the one we use today. The 365 days of the year were split among 12 months. 

Eventually, the Roman calendar changed from a lunar calendar to a solar one. Julius Caesar instituted a calendar system very similar to the one we use today. The 365 days of the year were split among 12 months. He also instituted the leap year tradition. Now, once every four years, an extra 29th day is added on to February. This was put in place to keep the calendar in sync with the actual solar year. The true length of a year is about 365.24 days, but even this time varies a little each year. Under the Gregorian calendar, a year is 365.25 days, which is still pretty close to the actual length of a solar year. The modern Gregorian calendar is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it some time after Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar.

No one really knows for sure why February still ended up being shorter than the other months. The month’s full moon has long been associated with the first signs of spring. Some speculate February is much shorter because we just want spring to start sooner. And who isn’t excited for warmer weather after a few long winter months?