Blame it on the Romans
“Thirty days has September, April, June, and November. All the rest have thirty-one, except February, which only has twenty-eight.” I still have to recite that little rhyme to myself if I don’t have a calendar in view to know how many days are in each month. Some months are easier to remember their length because of a holiday, like Halloween and New Years Eve, which are both on the thirty-first. Ask me about any other besides February and I honestly have to think about it. But even if you have trouble remembering the number of days in October or December, one month no one ever confuses is February: the twenty-eight day wonder. So why on Earth does February have only twenty-eight days?
Turns out that’s a very good question. You can ask the internet all day why February has only twenty-eight days. Many different sites lead off with “As the story goes…” or “Legend has it…” What does that tell you? Among all the month-muck out there, you’ll find several different versions based around the same facts. The irony is (as with many things in life), the one thing people seem to be sure about is that we’re not exactly sure.
This is probably why when you asked your parents about it when you were little, they didn’t have an answer for you. They didn’t know. If the exact history of the calendar were carved in stone, we would probably all learn about it in grade school. Rest assured there are some widely agreed-upon truths.
First, the modern calendar is based on the Roman one. That Roman calendar only had ten months: March (being month 1) through December (month 10). (This explains the “numbered” roots to the months Sept-(7)-ember, Oct-(8)-ober, Nov-(9)-ember, and Dec-(10)-ember. Also, July and August used to be Quintilis and Sextilis, respectively, for fifth and sixth. The pompous Ceasers, Julius and Augustus, felt the need to have their own months. Greedy, huh?)
Secondly, there were most likely days accounted for between the original December and March, a sort of winter, per se. Third, when January and February were established, January was modeled after the original months and February was comprised of basically whatever days were “left over.” (Poor February. Later, when someone decided leap year was necessary, they gave it to February to make it feel better.) The last fact is that the rest is unclear history.
So February is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because we can always remember how many days are in it. It’s a curse because we still pay the same rent as every other month! Blame it on the Romans.