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The Month of February

February along with January were the two months that remained unnamed until Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome, codified them in about 700 B.C. February was the month in which the Romans performed purification rights. Februa means purification. The English word, "February" comes to us from the Latin via Old French. It replaced an Old English word, Solmonao, which appropriately means, "mud month".

February Calendar

February has long been a confusing month with regard to its number of days. It had 28 days until about 450 B.C. when it was cut back to 23 or 24. Then Julius Caesar brought it back up to 28; but it was 29 on every fourth year (similar to today's system). The varying number of days in February was a device to keep the calendar in line with the actual year as measured by the Earth's rotation about the sun. Pope Gregory XIII adjusted the Julian Calendar's "leap year" formula so that the leap year would occur every four years except on years evenly divisible by 100 unless those years were also divisible by 400. This latest change keeps the calendar aligned to the revolution of the Earth around to sun to within a few seconds.

Besides being the only month with a variable number of days, February has the distinction of containing President's Day in the United States. This is largely because the two most esteemed presidents in American History were born during this month. Two other presidents were also born during February, William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan.

The month of February was designated black history month in 1926. Actually, to begin with, it was Negro History Month. Its founder was a black professor, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. February was chosen because of the two birthdays in February that had a great bearing on Black history, those of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Winter in February

Groundhog Day is on February 2nd. Tradition has it that the groundhog comes out of his hole on this day and looks about. If he sees his shadow it is a sign that there will be six more weeks of winter. (Because he is afraid of his own shadow, he quickly ducks back into his hole.) If the day is cloudy, he will remain above ground, supposedly revelling in the prospect of coming spring. The center of the Groundhog myths and rituals and celebrations is Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. A thoughtful comedy was produced in 1993 by Harold Ramus starring Bill Murray that features Groundhog Day.

The 5th of February is National Chocolate Fondue Day. Fondue is a once popular way of keeping rich creamy sauces warm for dipping with fruits or vegetables.

This month also harbors Valentines Day. Named for the Patron Saint of Lovers, this is the day that people express their love and admiration for others. It is thought that St. Valentine was a priest during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Claudius II. This emperor felt that soldiers were more dedicated if they remained unmarried. He decreed that soldiers should not marry. The priest married young couples anyway. He was martyred for his "cupidity".1

The birthstone for the month of February is the amethyst.

Next Page: The Month of March

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