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February 1, 2011

Every month has its own character -- something that sets it apart from all the others. January, for example, marks the start of the year, while March is the beginning of spring.

It's not hard to see what sets apart the month that begins today. February, which is named for the Roman god of purification, is the shortest month, and the only one that changes length. And tracing its evolution gives us a capsule history of the evolution of the modern calendar.

The calendar is a descendant of the earliest Roman calendar, which included only 10 months, beginning with March. The months were followed by about 60 days that didn't belong to any month. Before long, though, two months were added to the end of the year -- January and February.

This version of the calendar contained only 355 days, so every other year, an extra month was added and the last five days of February were dropped.

February changed again in the year 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar introduced the basic calendar that's still in use today.

Among other things, the "Julian" calendar decreed that the year would begin with January. It also added a day to every fourth February to keep the calendar in sync with the true seasons. But even that wasn't quite right -- there was still a small drift. That was corrected in the 14th century, when three of every 100 leap days were dropped -- giving us the odd little month that we know today.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010


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