Why is February shorter?

Have you ever wondered why February is the shortest month? OK, maybe not, but I’m going to tell you anyway!

The problem (because that’s what it was) originates from the fact that all calendars were once lunar, and the number of lunar months does not equal the solar year. Additionally, the solar year is not exactly 365 days, and this simply compounds the problem. That’s why we add an extra day occasionally to keep the calendar in line with our annual journey around the Sun.

The problem with February goes back to the Romans, and what have they ever done for us? They used a lunar calendar, but thought it would be a good idea if winter didn’t have months. eventually (around 713 BCE) they added two months (January and February) to the end of the year, because they considered the year started with the spring equinox in March.

There was still a problem for many centuries though, because there was all sorts of tinkering for all sorts of reasons. Julius Caesar eventually initiated calendar reform creating the Julian calendar, but even then there were still problems. The months now had either thirty one or thirty days, but the year was slightly too long. They resolved this by removing one day from February and returning it once every four years.

Having more or less solved the problem, they started counting leap years every three years and messed everything up again. Emperor Augustus corrected the issue, and all was well again – until it was decided to name a month after him. Now his month (I’ll leave you to work out which one) had one less day than the one honouring Julius Caesar (you can work it out), and that was out of the question.

So, what did they do? They took another day off poor February and added it to August, obviously! Hence, February has only twenty eight days, except in a leap year. There just remained a little adjustment to the months after August, so as to avoid having three consecutive months with thirty one days.

Note: Many centuries later, most of the world moved to the Gregorian calendar, but that’s another story.

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