You know it as the shortest month of the year—or, depending on where you live, the coldest. But, do you know where the name February came from?
When in Rome
Well, first, some calendar-related history. The original Roman calendar only had ten months, because, curiously, the Romans didn’t demarcate winter. (Sometimes, we wish we could do the same.)
In the 700s b.c., the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, changed that, adding January and February to the end of the calendar in order to conform to how long it actually takes Earth to go around the sun. The two new months were both originally 28 days long. It is lost to history why January acquired more days, though there are various unverifiable hypotheses.
At that time, March 1 became New Year’s Day, but later, in 153 b.c., the beginning of the year was moved to January 1.
February used to be called cabbage month?
Before we adopted the Latin name for our second month, Old English used much more vibrant names to describe the month now known as February. The most common Old English name was Solmonath, which literally means “mud month.”
A lesser-used term was Kale-monath, which meant “cabbage month.” Perhaps, the medieval English were eating a lot of cabbage in February? Strange.
Where did the word February come from?
Since other months, like January, are named after Roman gods, you’d be forgiven for thinking February was named after the Roman god Februus. But, the word February comes from the Roman festival of purification called Februa, during which people were ritually washed. In this case, the god was named after the festival, not the other way around.
Must have been a pretty good festival.