Why does February only have 28 Days? – The calendar year as we know it today has 12 months with a total of 365 days, with each month having roughly 30 days, except February totalling a shorter 28 days. However, before the reign of the second King of Rome, Numa Pompilius, Rome’s lunar calendar was just 10 months long. Their 304-day calendar year began in March and continued until December which was Rome’s harvest time. The time between December and March was thought to be unimportant by the first King of Rome (Romulus) and his people, as it had nothing to do with agriculture or religious ritual.
When Numa Pompilius took to power, he decided to make the calendar in better alignment with the year’s 12 lunar cycles which meant the new 355-day year needed two additional months to make up for lost time, thus creating January and February.
Odd numbers were favoured by the Romans, they actually believed even numbers to be unlucky. Because of this, each month had an odd number of days that alternated between 29 and 31. To their dismay, one month had to be an even number in order to reach 355 days therefore February was selected to be the month of the unlucky 28 days.
February comes from the Latin word Februa which means “to cleanse”. The month was named after the ancient month-long Roman festival (Februalia) of purification and atonement that took place. February was not chosen by random when selecting the month of an even number. This choice was made because Romans already honoured the dead and performed rites of purification during this time.
After some time of using this new 355-day calendar, it undoubtedly proved to not stay in sync with the seasons as it didn’t account for the time it took for the Earth to orbit the Sun. To try and rectify this, the Romans added a 27-day leap month (called Mercedonius) after 23rd February every couple of years to attempt to even things out. However, this system didn’t always go to plan or stay on schedule.
Due to the upkeep of this system being too inconsistent, in around 45 B.C, Julius Caesar decided to scrap the lunar-based system and commissioned an expert named Sosigenes of Alexandria who was an astronomer and mathematician who created a sun-based calendar similar to what the Egyptians once used. ‘The Julian Calendar’ was created with 10 extra days each year, making each month either 30 or 31 days long, except February. An extra day in February was added every four years to account for the entire 365.25-day-long year, now known as a “leap year day”.
Even though January and February were added to the end of the calendar year, Caesar wanted the year to begin in January as The Festival of the Gods of Gates was celebrated at this time. January was named after the Roman god Janus (the Gods of Gates) who is the god of beginnings, time and transitions, so it would make perfect sense for the start of the year to begin here! Even though the Julian Calendar was widely used for centuries, the date of the new year being in January wasn’t always honoured by its adopters.
February was traditionally seen as the end of the year which is why this month was chosen to add days to and why Roman calendars were modified to correspond to the year length after the last day of February – whether that was 23rd February back when the year only had a 355-day year as well as when 5 extra days were added to February making it a 28-day month. Many purists still believe “leap day” occurs on 24th February and not 29th February.