MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Does February Have Only 28 Days?

“30 days hath September…April, June, and November. All the rest have 31, except for February, which has 28…and, counting leap year, has 29. Why DOES February have only 28 days?

The reason why February has 28 days is because, to the Romans, February was an afterthought. In the 8th century BC, the 10-month Calendar of Romulus was in use. Each year kicked off in March & ended in December, with January & February not even existing at that time. But that “year” was only 304 days long. Winter, in those days, was a nameless, month-less period that was, for all intents & purposes, useless & not worth caring about or even counting. So, for 61 days out of the year, if you had asked “What month is it?”, the correct answer would’ve been, “None!”

So, in 713 BC, thinking it was ridiculous to even have a calendar if you’re going to neglect 1/6 of the year, King Numa Pompilius lined the calendar up with the 12 lunar cycles in the year, which spanned around 355 days, and introduced January & February at the end of the calendar. But since the Romans were superstitious & believed even numbers brought bad luck, King Numa attempted to make each month’s total days an odd number. But to reach the needed tally of 355, one month had to be even…and, being the last month on the calendar, February drew the short straw.

But issues with that 355-day calendar soon arose when, after a few years, the seasons & months had fallen out of sync. So, the Romans began occasionally inserting a 27-day leap month called “Mercedonius”. They would lop off the last couple days of February & start the leap month of Mercedonius on what was actually February 24.

But that caused problems, as well. Mercedonius’s implementation was haphazard & inconsistent, mainly because Rome’s high priests (who were also politicians) were the ones determining when it would arrive & would insert it to either the advantage of their allies or the disadvantage of their enemies. With so much politicking involved, by the time Julius Caesar arrived on the scene, nobody in Rome really had any clue what day it really was.

So, Julius Caesar reformed the calendar yet again, cutting out the leap month altogether. To get Romans back on track, 46 BCE was a 445-days-long year! Caesar then aligned the calendar with the sun & added a few days so that everything would add up to a total of 365. February got repositioned to near the top of the calendar, but it kept its 28 days.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at andy@wfre.com.