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 did we add February to the calendar?
First, some calendar-related history. The original Roman calendar only had 10 months, because, curiously, the Romans didn’t demarcate winter. (Sometimes, we wish we could do the same.)
In the 700s BCE, 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 BCE, the beginning of the year was moved to January 1.
Why was February 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.
What do we celebrate in February?
We may not have a festival of ritual washing, but February is big month for holidays. Valentine’s Day is held February 14 (and has a pretty interesting origin story, if we might add). Find out the history behind its namesake here. And don’t forget these printable valentines for word lovers, young and old.
We honor the achievements of our leaders, past and present, with Presidents’ Day. This February 22 holiday originally recognized the birthday of our first president and dollar bill cover model, George Washington. (Did you know? American presidents helped these words join our everyday vocabulary.)
February is Black History Month. Black history is American history, and it’s vital we continue or revisit our learning all year round—and not only during February. Join us for this roundup of some important terms in Black history, past and present, and 28 quotes to jumpstart each day of Black History Month.
If you were born between January 21–February 18, then you’re celebrating your status as an Aquarius, and you just might be humanitarian and creative. Why is that? You’ll just have to find out in our round-up of words describing Aquarians. Those born February 19–March 20 are known as intuitive and romantic Pisces.