Why there are 28 days in February

2017-03-01 06:01

HAVE you ever wondered why February has only 28 days, apart from every four years of course? Blame it on ancient Roman superstition.

The first Roman calendar had a glaring difference in structure from its later variants — it consisted of 10 months rather than 12. To bring it into line, a Roman emperor, Numa, added January and February. When he reorganised the calendar’s dates to fit the new format, Numa tried to avoid having months that consisted of an even number of days, as Romans believed that even numbers were unlucky.

But in order to reach the 355 days of the lunar year (354,367 to be exact but he rounded up to keep it odd), one month out of the 12 needed to contain an even number of days. This is because of the simple mathematical fact that the sum of any even amount of odd numbers will always equal an even number. So Numa chose February, a month that would be host to Roman rituals honouring the dead, as the unlucky month to consist of 28 days.

For the record, the following apply to leap years. A year is a leap year if it is divisible by four, but century years are not leap years unless they are divisible by 400.

So, the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but the year 2000 was. The last leap day was Monday, February 29, 2016, and the next will be Saturday February 29, 2020. But it’s not a perfect match — adding a leap day every four years overcompensates by a few extra seconds each leap year, adding up to about three extra days every 10 000 years.

Anyone born in a leap year is called a “leapling”. In ancient times it was known as “Ladies Day”, when women were free to propose marriage to men of their choice, but it was also claimed that it was unlucky to marry during a leap year.

 

 

 

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