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  • Although February 2015 might fit perfectly on the page, every year it's the runt of the monthly litter.

  • This deficit of days, this calendar craziness, this oddity of the annum, like so much of modern culture, is the Romans' fault.

  • Here's the crazy story of why February has 28 daysexcept when it doesn't.

  • Romulus, the maybe-mythical, maybe-real founder and first king of Rome, had a problem.

  • With an increasing number of festivals, feasts, military ceremonies, and religious celebrations to keep track of,

  • Romans needed a calendar to organize all of them.

  • Ancient astronomers already had accurate calculations for the time between two solar equinoxes or solstices,

  • but nature had given people a nice, easy pie chart in the sky to track the passage of time,

  • so early Rome, like many other cultures, worked off a lunar calendar.

  • The calendar of the Romulan republic had ten months of either 30 or 31 days, beginning in March and ending in December,

  • and we can still see traces of that calendar today.

  • Problem was, that year was a few days short of four seasons.

  • Romans were too busy not dying during winter to count those 61 and a quarter extra days

  • they'd just start the next year on the new moon before the spring equinox.

  • It's actually not a bad system, as long as you don’t have to figure out what day it is between December and March.

  • So the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, tried something else.

  • Even numbers were bad luck in Ancient Rome, so Numa started by removing a day from all the even-numbered months.

  • And being loony for Luna, Numa wanted his calendar to cover 12 cycles of the moon,

  • but that would have been an even number, so he rounded his year up to 355.

  • Numa split the remaining days into two months and tacked them on to the end of the year.

  • And that's how February got 28 days. Yes, it's an even number, but since the month was dedicated to spiritual purification,

  • Romans let that one slide.

  • But, as powerful as Rome may have been, they couldn't change the rules of the universe,

  • and neither of these calendars add up to anywhere close to the time it takes us to orbit the sun.

  • After a few years, the seasons are out of whack with the months, dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!!

  • Did we already use that joke?

  • This is where it gets even weirder.

  • See, February was actually split in two parts. The first 23 days andthe rest.

  • Every year, Numa's superstitious calendar would be out of line with the seasons by a little more than 10 days.

  • So every other year, the last few days of February were ignored

  • and a 27-day leap month was added after February 23rd or 24th.

  • This way every four years would average out to 366 and a quarter dayswhich is still too many days, but we're getting there.

  • Confused? You should be. Numa!

  • This system could have worked, every 19 years, lunar and solar calendars tend to line up,

  • so add enough leap months to keep the seasons in order and eventually everything will reset itself.

  • Except those leap months weren't always added according to plan.

  • Politicians would ask for leap months to extend their terms,

  • orforgetthem to get their opponents out of office.

  • And if Rome was at war, sometimes the leap month would be forgotten for years,

  • by the time Julius Caesar came to power, things had gotten pretty confusing.

  • Caesar had spent a lot of time in Egypt, where 365-day calendars were all the rage,

  • so in 46 BC, he flushed Rome's lunar calendar down the aqueduct and installed a solar calendar.

  • January and February had already been moved to the beginning of the year,

  • and Caesar added 10 days to different months to get a total of 365.

  • And since a tropical year is a tad longer than 365 days, Julius added a leap day every four years,

  • except that they inserted it after February 23, right in the middle of the month.

  • Apparently February is just the trash heap of the calendar, just do whatever feels good.

  • For all their work to reform the calendar and other stuff they did,

  • the 7th and 8th months of the year were renamed for Julius and his successor Augustus Caesar,

  • despite the fact that Pope Gregory would have to adjust it again in 1500 years.

  • But that's a story for a different day. Or month. I don't even know anymore. Stay curious.

Although February 2015 might fit perfectly on the page, every year it's the runt of the monthly litter.

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Why Does February Only Have 28 Days?

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    Ashley Chen posted on 2016/06/02
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