February, the little guy in the calendar

February is the month that almost never made into our modern calendar. 

History is sketchy, but we do know that the original  ancient Roman calendar had only 10 months in it – January and February not yet considered. That space was simply regarded as “winter time.” But eventually, around 700 BCE, to round out the 365 days of the calendar year, January was added and – later – February was dovetailed in to fill in a remaining 28 leftover days to complete the year – with one extra leap year day added every four years, and that, of course, is how we get an extra day this year to tidy things up.

With two R’s, February is not only the shortest month, but also the only one that is rarely pronounced correctly.

Why named February? It comes from the Roman god Februa, honored during the month of festivals celebrating “februum” (purification), a time for washing ceremonies. 

February is honored for the the birth of two former presidents, George Washington and Abraham  Lincoln, and more recently includes the honoring of Martin Luther King, while also indicating it as Black History Month. 

Further, there are plenty of reasons listed for celebrating each day of the month, with more being added constantly. Today, the 15th, is National Gumdrop Day, Singles Awareness Day, and National Wisconsin Day. Tomorrow, the 16th, is National Almond Day as well as National Do A Grouch a Favor Day; while the 17th is celebrated as National Random Acts of Kindness Day, National Cabbage Day, and the now grouped Presidents Day.

But above all, February is the month of love, with hopeless romantics looking forward to   romance, and what may follow.

Valentine’s Day, observed on the 14th, began as St. Valentine’s Day. It became celebrated in honor of one early Christian saint named Valentines. History tells us that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted during the period of the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, Valentines healed the daughter of his jailer and before  his execution wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a tender farewell.

Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love in a lengthy, unfinished poem, “The Canterbury Tales.” It was written in the late Middle Ages by one of England’s most beloved poets, Geoffrey Chaucer. The idea prompted lovers in the 18th century to express their love for each other by presenting flowers, sweet confections, and sending greeting cards known as “valentines.” Little did those early romantics know what they were starting and how length tradition would continue.

In more recent times, the expressions of gifts and love extend to a culmination in marriage, and that began a new series of traditions regarding proposals, some quite ridiculous.  For example, if a young girl received a wedding proposal and could not decide whether or not to have the man, she is advised to “leave it to the cat;” that is, to take three hairs from a cat’s tail and wrap them in a bit of white paper. The packet is then left under the doorstep for the night. When she opens the paper in the morning, she will note that the hairs have arranged themselves either into an N (for no) or a Y (for yes). Old-timers advised that the girl would do well to heed the advice.

Other superstitions prevailed: The ancient Greeks believed that marriages consummated during the full moon were the most prosperous and happiest, but a waning moon boded ill will and had to be be avoided.  

The full moon is also considered to be an ideal time to consider a marriage proposal, as noted in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and  Juliet.”  Also, more  strongly suggested: if a young woman sees a dove and the new moon at the same instant she should say, “Bright moon, clear moon, bright and fair, lift up your right foot, there’ll be a hair,” and when she removes her shoe, she’ll find a hair that is the same color as her future husband’s.

Another belief: a new moon in a girl’s dreams can promise increased wealth or a happy marriage. No moon at all – beware the consequences!

Added to the above superstitions are others gathered over the years:

– Snow on your wedding day is a sign of fertility and prosperity.

-Walking is thought to be the best way of getting to church, as there’s more chance of spotting lucky omens, like seeing a rainbow, having the sun shine, and meeting a black cat or a chimney sweep. 

-Wearing gold earrings on your wedding day ensures wedded bliss.

-Put marigolds in your wedding bouquet to keep your true love.

-Speak wedding vows on the upward strokes of the clock hands and you’ll work well together in  your marriage. On the downward strokes, not good.

-An engagement ring purchased on a Tuesday will guarantee a marriage filled with peace and contentment.

-Burning a mistletoe on Twelfth Night ensures marriage for those who have first kissed underneath it.

Finally, to close out all such questionable nonsense is the following anonymous advice: For a happy marriage, never speak loudly to one another unless the house is on fire.

Ah, February – the shortest, most recent an oddest month of all – rich with an abundance of hopes, anticipations, threats, and whatever else the future may add to it. Enjoy and fear it while ye may.


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