The second month of the year in our current Gregorian calendar is called February. February is a wiggly month in several ways. Its name is pronounced incorrectly so often that newer American dictionaries list the mispronunciation (which omits the first “R”) along with the correct American English pronunciation. The British pronounce both “R’s” but reduce the word to three syllables. In the time of the Julian calendar, it was the first month, then Julius Caesar decided to put January into first place. Not only is February the shortest month of the year but for three years in a row, it has 28 days, and every fourth year it has 29. February also has a wiggly history and diverse traditions.
The Origins of the Word “February”
The English word “February” derives from the Latin month Februarius—the traditional month of purification, februm in Latin. In the early days of Rome, when Februarius was still the first month of the year, on the fifteenth day of the month, priests sacrificed a goat. A priest then marked young men’s foreheads with blood and wiped it off with goat’s milk. Subsequently, the men ran naked through the town tapping passersby with pieces of goatskin. Women who wanted to conceive or deliver a healthy baby stepped up to be touched.
Once the Christian era began and February took its place as the second month, St. Valentine’s Day was feted on February 14th. Eventually, the festival of love became more important than the ancient februm. The connection with purification was lost. Over the centuries, February’s link with love evolved into an exchange of flowers, candy, or cards. In the USA, it has become a commercial holiday that has spread to some other cultures, while others have rejected both the holiday’s commercialism and its tie to Christianity. Today the hearts and flowers of St. Valentine’s Day are traditionally red and white. These colors appear to reprise those of the blood and milk of the ancient februm.
Symbols or Historical Events Associated with February
Reading up on the historical events associated with the various months is fascinating. Since I am European-American, my knowledge tends to be focused on the very short history of the USA, the long history of Europe, with my knowledge of Irish, Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian traditions being more limited. However, when I do follow the clues backward in time, I am always intrigued with how the so-called “pagan” holidays were transformed slowly and in different ways after Emperor Constantine was baptized as a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire around 325 BC.
As monuments that still exist in Europe and Africa reveal, the pagan holidays were directly related to the seasons and to the revolution of the sun, moon, and planets. Newgrange for example dates back about 3,200 years before the Christian era. The Egyptian pyramids precede the Christian era by around 2550 years. Britain’s Stonehenge dates to 3000-1500 years before the Christian era. I read recently that an African henge 700 miles south of Egypt, called Nabta Playa, is even older than the European henges, dating back to approximately 7000 BC. The existence and function of these sites demonstrate the ancients’ knowledge of astronomy and the practical application of mathematics. This means that for more than 7000 years, human culture focused on astronomy and paid attention to the rotation of the spheres and the seasons. Yet, for the last 2022 years, European and American cultures have consistently masked astronomical events with Christian holidays. Perhaps it would make more sense to return to an observational and scientific view.
February in Fiction
In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare, knowing that listeners would relate the character’s look to the cold weather of the month, refers to the character Benedick as having: “…such a February face, so full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness.” No one would want to be in a room with a person who has a February face. Shakespeare’s expression reminds me of a French expression that describes an arrogant, rigid, and cold person as having “un visage funèbre”—a funeral face.
In The Paris Wife, Paul McLain’s novel about Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, weather frames the mood of the couple. February is first mentioned as the time for Hadley and Ernest to escape Paris for the warmer clime of Italy, (p. 142-143) “February was a changeable time in Italy. Some days were hung with mist, blotting out the hills behind the town until we felt very remote… Sometimes the air was humid and drenched with sun. We could walk in the piazza or along the promenade to see fishermen on the concrete pier, dangling their poles out into the tide.” Later, when their relationship is on the rocks McLain writes: “February in Schruns was a small kind of hell. Outside, the weather raged or flailed. Inside, things weren’t much better…”
In Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis (a novel that should be reread today as it is certainly apropos), the months November, January, and February are used in a series of short chapters to show the speed at which Gantry progresses from engagement to marriage to running his evangelical meetings with his wife as a soloist. Gantry moves quickly to establish himself as the evangelist in charge. He tries to motivate his parishioners by saying, “If old Satan were lazy as some would-be Christians in this burg, we’d all be safe.”
My Writing Goals for 2022
Publish my second book of poetry:
I have established connections with a publisher and a poetry editor. I worked on revisions.
Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:
Over the last few weeks, I worked on one secondary character building in more accuracy for her motivation.
Continue to work on my other novels:
I only worked on one other novel, playing with the timeline.
Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:
Boulder Writers Alliance: As president, I am working on increasing local participation and membership in the organization. On February 16, I plan to present a Zoom workshop on Goal Setting for Creative Work.
Denver Women’s Press Club: I sent feedback and comments on her manuscript to my critique partner at DWPC.
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I read the newsletter.
Women Writing the West: I signaled my interest in joining a critique group and read the email postings.
Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month in 2022:
Today is February 7, 2022, I am posting my second blog of 2022. The past four weeks have been trying with fires, floods, snowstorms, and cyclones affecting those I cherish and so many others. 50 Plus Marketplace published my poem about the fires in Colorado on page 7 (see link below):
February 7th in history: Sinclair Lewis, the first American novelist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born on February 7, 1885.