This is why February has 28 days - and why there is a 'leap' every fourth year

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 10:33 am
Updated Thursday, 18th February 2021, 10:33 am

February is a jam-packed month, with Valentine’s Day, Pancake Tuesday and the school half term causing the month to fly by.

It is also the shortest month of the year, with only 28 days - and 29 on a leap year.

So, why does February not have the typical 30-31 days and what’s the reason behind leap years?? This is what you need to know

Why does February only have 28 days?

February was established as a 28-day month by the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius.

Prior to this, the first king of Rome - Romulus - did not count the days of January and February in the year’s calendar as he felt they were unimportant because they didn’t produce any harvest.

When Pompilius took over, he decided to create a more in-sync calendar and added January and February in line with the 12 lunar months.

They were originally added to the end of the year - hence the Lunar Calendar beginning again at the end of February.

Almost every month had 29 or 31 days as even numbers were seen to be unlucky, however to add up to the original 355 days in one year there had to be an unlucky month - February.

The word februare means "to purify" in the dialect of the ancient Sabine tribe - February was the month used to honour the dead and perform ceremonies of purification.

Why was the year originally 355 days long?

The lunar cycle contains 364.3 days, but this was rounded to 355 so it wasn’t unlucky.

To try and regain the 0.75 of a day, every four years would be a leap of 27 days in February.

However, the alignment didn’t add up and the seasons began to fall out of sync with the months and days.

There were only 355 days of the year until the time of Julius Caesar, when he ordered a sun expert to create a calendar reflective of the sun’s cycle (solar) in 45 BC.

The Julian Calendar added a little more than 10 days to each year, making each month either 30 or 31 days long, except for February.

However, there was still the issue of a partial day left over, therefore every four years the days were rounded up to 29 - the reason for the leap year.

The Julian calendar is no longer called this, and is instead called the Georgian calendar.

Why do we use the Georgian calendar?

The Gregorian calendar was devised by Pope Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.

The only difference from the Julian in that no century year is a leap year unless it is exactly divisible by 400 - such as 1600, 2000.

This was because each century the calendar would fall out of alignment with the seasons and by the time the new calendar was devised the days were out of alignment by about 10 days.

Therefore, in the year of 1582, October 4 was succeeded by 15 October to regain the lost days and make the new calendar effective.