There are many reasons to hate February. The Romans thought so little of it, they originally left it off the calendar. In 700 BC, though, they added January and February, so that the year would match the length of one trip around the sun. Both months were 28 days long but January somehow gained three more. Twenty-eight days, however, was more than enough for February. It was named for “Februa” a festival of purification that involved ritual washing. Nowadays, when we come in from the cold, we still do plenty of ritual washing.
Julius Caesar started Leap Year, also to keep the calendar accurate. Why add a day to the month we least want lengthened? Wouldn’t July 32nd have made more sense? Well, the Romans were superstitious about numbers and thought even numbers brought bad luck.
February isn’t only our most miserable month, it’s difficult to spell. That’s because no one pronounces the first “r.” I was training an assistant and the first question she asked was, “How do you spell February?” I can’t blame her. If I didn’t write for the Review, I’d still be struggling with that word.
February includes Groundhog Day, the silliest holiday we celebrate. Punxsutawney Phil is as poor as Phil Connors at predicting weather. The weathercaster failed to predict the blizzard that stranded him in Pennsylvania, while the rodent-caster is right only 37% of the time about the arrival of spring. Plus, Forest Park has been slammed twice on Groundhog Day with record snowfall. On Feb. 2, 2011, a blizzard dumped 21.2 inches of snow.
Exactly four years later, we dug out from 19.3 inches of white stuff. My college students braved this blizzard to attend services at Living Word. Like most college kids, they loved going to church on Sunday mornings. They also took Black History Month seriously.
Why was our shortest, gloomiest month chosen for Black History? Because February contains the birthdays of the “Great Emancipator,” Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In February 2019, I hosted two events to celebrate Black history. The first was on the North Side and drew three people. I ended up stuck with a whole platter of pastries from Twisted Cookie but found plenty of volunteers to scarf them down.
The second event was on the South Side and drew zero people. This time, I was only stuck with wine, cheese and crackers. The lesson I learned was that Chicagoans don’t leave their homes in February, regardless of Black History Month events and free refreshments.
What February has in history, it lacks in sporting events. After the Super Bowl, February is a sports desert. This year, though, we have the Winter Olympics. Because sportscasters have overused the word “downhill” to describe any aggressive move by a running back or point guard, they are forbidden to use it during the Olympics. This includes the Alpine Events.
February’s one saving grace may be Valentine’s Day. I’ve had many memorable Valentine’s Days but the memories are mostly embarrassing. There was the time I stood up my wife because a lawyer named Dick Valentine kept me overtime. There was the romantic musical we almost missed because Sizzler was serving all-you-can-eat shrimp. But I most remember a Valentine’s Day blizzard that forced me to trudge through snow bearing a red rose and a bottle of wine.
Finally, February has Presidents Day. How did we get this holiday? Did one of our chief executives own a mattress store? How do we celebrate if we didn’t like some former presidents, or dislike the current one?
My final question is, why does the shortest month seem longer than all the rest?