I wasn’t planning on posting today, until the husband asked “Why is February so short?” Had I never asked that myself? Anyway, I had to find out in a hurry, as the days were running out and today was going to be March 1, marked as our St David’s Day here in Wales.
The history of calendars is ever so complicated, so I don’t think for a minute that what I am about to say is “correct”, but it’s my interpretation of what I found online, including Wikipedia and various question-and-answer forums.
The main point I gleaned was that in early Roman times the year started on March 1. The year was of only 10 months, adding up to 304 days. The winter days we would call January and February weren’t properly counted as months at all, but when added on to the 10 months, they made the year total 355 days. Awkwardly this didn’t measure the same as the time it takes the earth to go once around the sun (about 365.25 days), so seasons were slipping out of kilter.
Those were the days when September (as its name suggests) was the seventh month, with October, November and December the eighth, ninth and 10th months.
Anyway, Julius Caesar’s Julian Calendar (in 45BC) tidied up a lot of problems. The year became 12 months long, starting in January. I have seen it said that the months were then arranged regularly as 31 days – 30 days – 31 days – 30 days and so on until the end of the year. But I can’t find any evidence of this. In the Julian calendar the months seem to have been the same number of days as now, even down to February having 28 days, with one added on every four years to make up those 0.25 days in the Earth’s solar year.
This also puts paid to the idea that Augustus wanted his month (August) to be as long as that of his predecessor Julius Caesar (July), and that they both stole days from February. They both seem to have had 31 days already.
Quinctilis (formerly the fifth month but now the seventh) had been renamed in honour of Julius Caesar after his assassination in 44BC – it was his birth month.
The Senate renamed Sextilis (formerly the sixth month but now the eighth) in honour of Augustus Caesar in 8BC – it had been a very successful month for him over the years, with many military victories.
So we are left wondering why February was short-changed. I can only think it was because it had been the tail-end of the year and there weren’t enough days to go around.
Our year hasn’t changed that much since the Julian Calendar was first adopted. In 1582 the Gregorian Calendar of Pope Gregory XIII took out some leap years so that the solar year was matched again. German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer Christopher Clavius did much of the scientific work on the calendar, following on from the proposals of the Italian Aloysius Lilius. The Pope was more interested in sorting out issues with the date of Easter, a movable feast linked to the first full moon after the Spring equinox.
The earth takes 365.2425 days to go around the sun, not 365.25. So under the changes brought in by the Gregorian Calendar February no longer has 29 days in years exactly divisible by 100, unless they are exactly divisible by 400. The year 1900 was not a leap year, but the year 2000 was. The change was so small that some European countries took centuries to change from the Julian calendar. England changed in 1752.
On top of that, despite the Julian and Gregorian calendars both starting on January 1, some countries did not mark this as New Year’s Day. In England until 1752 New Year’s Day was March 25 or Lady Day, the Catholic feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. This causes complications if you are tracing your British ancestry back beyond that (as I am).
With the weather becoming almost Springlike here in southern Britain, it’s not surprising to find that the Meteorological Office considers March 1 to be the first day of Spring. For the convenience of comparing historical records, it has decided that Spring is March/April/May, Summer is June/July/August, Autumn is September/October/November and Winter is December/January/February.
This is of course different from the astronomical seasons, where Spring starts on the vernal equinox, around March 20, and Autumn on the autumnal equinox, around September 22.
I have only touched on European calendars but all over the world the year starts at different times. Recently we had the Chinese New Year here in Cardiff. This is based on the lunar cycle and in case you hadn’t realised, lunar months don’t fit neatly into a solar year.
This time the Chinese New Year fell on our February 19 and began what is considered to be a not-very-good year to be born in, the year of the goat or sheep.
In my view, turn that into the year of the ram and it doesn’t sound so bad. Anyway, here in Wales we love sheep!
But back to St David’s Day. I suspect the daffodils are just about coming out in Bute Park, as two days ago some were in bud…
I have written about St David’s Day a couple of times before, so below are links to those posts.
Happy St David’s Day and Happy New Year – as the sun shines through those dirty windows our thoughts turn to spring cleaning and decluttering…