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The (Kind Of Confusing) Reason February Only Has 28 Days

Photo: Jesse33 / shutterstock
February calendar

February is an interesting month, to say the least. It has a lot of amusing holidays, like Groundhog Day, President's Day, and of course Valentine's Day.

And that's not even mentioning that funny little thing called a leap year. February is the only month where the number of days can change according to the year.

Why does February have 28 days?

Much like with all good stories these days, the reason February Is so short starts with a throwback to times long ago and a sprinkle of superstition.

The Romans were pretty much obsessed with time and figuring out ways they could use it to their advantage. Romulus, the first King of Rome, decided on a 10-month, 304-day calendar that excluded the winter months of January and February, as he deemed them unimportant to the harvest. The winter was essentially considered monthless.

When Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, took over, he wanted a calendar that was in sync with each year's 12 lunar cycles. In 713 BC, he added two months, January and February into the calendar. However, this wasn't quite enough to do the trick.

Even numbers were considered back luck according to Roman superstition, so Pompilius wanted each month to last only either 29 or 31 days. But in order to include the necessary 355 days within 12 lunar cycles, one month had to end on an even number, lasting just 28 days.

Pompilius chose February, originally called Februalia to be the unlucky month made up of 28 days. It is believed that February, which comes from the word "februare" (to purify), was chosen because it was already the month dedicated to honoring the dead and purification rites.

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Leap year came along later thanks to Julius Caesar.

The calendar developed by Numa Pompilius didn't last long. After just a few years Romans found the the seasons and months were out of sync.

Then Julius Caesar arrived on the scene in 45 BC, fixing the calendar so that it aligned with the sun as based on the Egyptian solar calendar. To do this, each month (other than February) was changed to include either 30 days or 31 days, bringing the total number of days on what became known as the Julian Calendar to 365.

And while February remained set at 28 days, a 29th day was added every four years to keep things staying synced up.

No one knows for sure why Caesar chose to keep February at 28 days. Perhaps he wanted to prove the superstition of even numbers being unlucky wrong, so he made February the first month to end in an even number. No one truly knows the answer, but it is known that Julius was the one who added in the Leap Year.

Caesar added an extra day at the end of February every four years on the advice of Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes. This was to make up for the fact that the Earth's year is slightly more than 365 days. Caesar effectively built the blueprint for what we use today.

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Today we use the Gregorian calendar.

Caesar's calculation that a year lasted 365.25 days was pretty close, but it still overestimated the year by roughly 11 minutes causing the placement of Easter to drift far from its traditional place. This wouldn't do for the Catholic Church, so they went to work to fix it.

Pope Gregory XIII introduced his calendar in 1582, keeping Caesar's leap year but eliminating the extra day on centurial years that weren't divisible by 400 (1700,1800, 1900, etc.) to account for the inaccurate calculations.

Experts in the area of time noted that the Gregorian calculation of a solar year — 365.2425 days — is still not perfect. That means another change will have to happen eventually. But it's only off by about one day every 3,030 years, so it'll be a while before that happens.

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Sloane Solomon is a YourTango editor and writer who covers pop culture, lifestyle topics, astrology, and relationships.

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