One of the favourite tests of our intelligence and powers of observation is known as “Odd One Out:” several shapes or sets of shapes are shown and the test is to decide which of them is unlike the others.
If I were to ask you which of the 12 months of the year is the odd one out, you would have no trouble in answering February, with its 28 days (29 in each Leap Year), knowing, as you do, that the other 11 months have either 30 or 31 days.
It didn’t take long for February to compete for the odd-month-out title as the shy and untrustworthy groundhog slipped from his burrow on the 2nd. The appearance of the groundhog is all mixed up with ancient fertility rites, purification rituals, and weather divination and is a distant North American echo of the far off Roman hedgehog and the German badger.
Feb. 2 is also Candlemas Day, which falls between the shortest day and the spring equinox, and is supposed – like the groundhog – to give a hint of the coming of spring.
In pre-Christian times it was a festival of light and through the long centuries before electricity it was a time to gather the precious candles together and bless them – the mass of the candles.
And now, here we are 14 days into the oddest month of the year, on one of the oddest celebrations of the year, St. Valentine’s Day; and if you will forgive me using the word one more time, the oddest thing about today is how one of several saints named Valentine became involved with hearts and flowers and chocolates and intimate dining 1,700 years after he died.
Now, I don’t want to cloud your enjoyment of the sugary treats that usually go with this day, nor the wine that often goes with them. But, I have to remind you that February comes from the Latin Februarius – meaning the month of expiation – when you are supposed to make amends for any sins or wrongs you have committed, and the very day you are supposed to do this is tomorrow, Feb. 15, the Festival of Purification.
So enjoy the wine and chocolate today – better be sorry tomorrow.
Due to the wandering of the moon and the vagaries of Easter, February shares a number of customs and festivals with March: The season of Lent – named because the days begin to lengthen; Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, Carnival, and Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday); Ash Wednesday; and the Jewish Feast of Purim, a day of thanksgiving and commemoration.
Perhaps because it is shorter, it is easy to lose February between January and March. They, after all, are the winter months of cold and snow and gnashing winds.
But remind ourselves that while we in the Lower Mainland are let off lightly with cool sunny days, most of the rest of the province suffers through all three winter months. Then, we’ll understand when, in Much Ado about Nothing, Shakespeare has Don Pedro say,“Good Morrow, Benedick. Why what’s the matter, that you have such a February face, so full of frost and storm and cloudiness.”
The final well-known oddity of February is that its extra day comes around only once every four years, meaning that, if we count up birthdays to tell our age, people born on that day are always considerably younger than their contemporaries.
Perhaps this makes up for missing out on the parties and gifts of three birthdays out of four. Perhaps.