Little February

StarDate: February 1, 2009

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For a month whose main event is Valentine's, February doesn't get a lot of love. It's the shortest month of the year. It's the only month that changes length. And it was something of an afterthought; it was originally tacked on at the end of the year to bring the calendar in line with the seasons.

At first, the Roman calendar was divided into 10 months, starting with March. The days at the end of the year weren't even counted.

Soon, though, those days were moved into two new months -- January and February. All the months except February were either 29 or 31 days long, because even numbers were considered unlucky. Unlucky February was devoted to rites of purification.

The calendar still had some extra days at the end of the year, though. And over the centuries, there was a lot of tinkering with the length of the months and the placement of "leap days."

That changed when Julius Caesar completely revamped the calendar in 43 B.C. The new Julian calendar moved the beginning of the year to January. And it set the months at the same lengths we have today. A leap day was added to every fourth February to keep the calendar in line with the seasons.

The calendar has needed only one tweak since then -- and as you might have guessed, February got the tweaking. Three leap days were deleted from every 400 years -- depriving February of that extra bit of love that comes with leap year.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008

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