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why is February shorter than every other month?

Writer : Helen Parish, Professor in Historical past, College of Studying

Why does February has the least variety of days? Why does it not have 30 or 31 days like the remainder of the eleven months? – Simi, aged 15, Mauritius

The rationale February is shorter than different months comes all the way down to the historical past of how we measure and divide the 12 months.

We all know that the Earth takes 365 days and just below six hours to go across the Solar. The division of these days into twelve months is a human invention to measure time. Nevertheless it hasn’t at all times been divided that method.

Within the first surviving historical Roman calendar, there have been ten months. The calendar was formed by the agricultural 12 months, so started in spring with March and ended 304 days later in December. There was no work to be performed within the fields in the course of the two months of winter, and the remainder of days within the 12 months had been merely not counted within the calendar.


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In 731BC Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, determined to line the calendar up with the phases of the moon. There are 12 cycles of the moon annually, so the calendar was divided into twelve months. January and February had been added and the brand new calendar 12 months lasted 355 days.

The Romans believed that even numbers had been unfortunate, so the size of the months in Pompilius’ calendar alternated between 29 or 31 days. Nonetheless, the size of the calendar 12 months meant that the ultimate month – February – was left with solely 28.

In Rome, February was linked with rituals of purification, or februum – giving it its identify. In the course of the pageant of Lupercalia purification ceremonies befell to organize buildings and other people for the feasts and sacrifices of the pageant. In the course of the pageant of Feralia meals and presents had been delivered to cemeteries, to honour the useless and preserve them completely happy so they might not rise and hang-out the residing.

Nonetheless, a calendar 12 months lasting 355 days created its personal issues. As a result of the Earth takes longer than this to go around the Solar, as years glided by the months and the seasons began to fall out of alignment. So an additional month known as Mercedonius was added to the calendar earlier than the beginning of March.

Mercedonius was not used yearly. It was added each time it was essential to re-align the months and the seasons. It had both 27 or 28 days, making a 12 months that lasted for both 377 or 378 days.

However this had unlucky penalties for February. Mercedonius began on 24th February, reducing 4 days from a month that was already the shortest within the calendar. And though Mercedonius helped to hyperlink the months with the seasons, its use was unpredictable. Individuals residing removed from Rome may not realise that the additional month had been added to the calendar.

One other calendar

One other new calendar tried to repair this drawback. Within the Julian Calendar, named after Julius Caesar and relationship from 45 BCE, a 12 months lasted 365 days.

Not one of the additional ten days had been added to February. There have been twelve months, every of which had been the identical size as in our calendar. To maintain the calendar correct, an additional day was added to February as soon as each 4 years – a bissextile year.

A coin displaying Julius Caesar and relationship from February-March 44BC.
Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Nonetheless, an additional day every 4 years is definitely a bit an excessive amount of to appropriate the distinction between a 365-day 12 months and the 365 and just below 1 / 4 days through which the Earth orbits the Solar. By the center of the sixteenth century, the Julian calendar was out of alignment with the seasons and cycles of the 12 months by ten days.

This led to the creation of one other calendar. The Gregorian Calendar was launched in 1582, named after Pope Gregory XIII, and remains to be in use at this time. Within the Gregorian calendar, no century 12 months is usually a bissextile year except it’s precisely divisible by 400 – so 2000 was a bissextile year, with an additional day in February, however not 1900. This prevents the issues brought on by the Julian calendar.

This sounds easy sufficient, however that ten-day error within the Julian calendar nonetheless wanted to be corrected. In 1582, ten days had been taken out of the calendar in international locations that adopted the Gregorian calendar. This meant that the day after four October was 15 October – and the dates in between by no means existed.

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