By Randy Jackson
Our 12-month calendar originated in Ancient Rome. However, the first Roman calendars had only 10 months. For over 500 years Romans considered the period of time between December and March to be the unnamed winter season. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar’s time that the months of January and February were added to the calendar. I can imagine those early Romans thinking, “Until its Martius, it’s still winter.” A sentiment I understand completely. That January/February period is the boggy part of the calendar we just have to slog through (at least in the more northern part of the hemisphere). Once we are past these two months there is good reason to pause, reflect, and celebrate that winter is over. It’s high time we recognize and celebrate the end of February as the end of winter.
I think we all know the end of winter isn’t the end of all winter conditions. Heck, at home I don’t put my snow shovel away until the end of May. At the same time, by the end of February I think we all know that the worst and the most of winter is over with. The lack of any festivities to mark the end of February appears to be an historical oversight we can now correct.
For too long, we’ve relied on precise celestial observations to mark our seasons. The winter solstice of December 21st has been misconstrued in modern times as the start of winter. Wikipedia tells us ancient civilizations identified the winter solstice as the middle of the winter. The time when our ancestors checked the food stores to make sure they still had at least half remaining. Halfway is no reason to celebrate. If you’ve ever run a marathon, knowing you’re halfway is no cause for excitement whatsoever. It’s just a marker that you made it this far and you still have a long, painful way to go. So to mark December 21st as the start of winter is silliness of the highest order. Ask any Canadian kid who’s licked snow off a metal railing in December if winter has started yet.
Nor is the winter solstice the end of winter. Pollyannas often say on December 22nd, “Well, at least the days are getting longer now.” The correct response to this is, “Who cares, it’s not even January.” Yes, technically the days are getting longer after December 21st, and the change depends on the latitude. Around the 49th parallel (the western border between Canada and the U.S.), it starts out at about 1 minute per day of additional daylight. Not something anyone would notice for a month or two.
The spring equinox is a little closer to the mark of the end of winter. This year, 2020, that date is March 19th. The spring equinox is the one day in the year when the equator is the closest point on earth to the sun. The earth is upright on its axis so that both the north and south hemispheres receive 12 hours of daylight. The date of the spring equinox moves around a bit, although it’s not as fickle as Easter, but it’s still not an end-type date like the end of February. Besides, by late March we already know winter is over. By then winter was a band-aid ripped off so long ago the hair has grown back. We’re all thinking of spring by then.
There are other reasons to celebrate the end of winter at the end of February. Here’s a trivia question: Who likes February as their favorite month? Answer: Nobody (trick question). I had a joke wall calendar at work back in the day. For February it had a cartoon drawing of a guy slogging to work in the snow with the caption “February is the month with 11 Mondays.” Sorry February, it’s not because you’re the shortest, or that in different years you have a different number of days, or that your Roman creators didn’t even want you as a month. It’s, well … you’re special … and we’d like to give you a going away party.
I think most snowbirds would agree with me on February. Most of us migrate northward in March and so the end of February marks a turning point. Another season of fun in the sea and sun is about to end. And shouldn’t all turning points be celebrated?
There once was a month in Nantucket
So cold saltwater froze in the buckets.
But when it was done,
There was hope for some sun,
And February was ended with trumpets.