“The Polar Intuit of northwest Greenland, the northernmost people, call February ‘seqinniaq’, “the month when the sun appears.” Fred Bruemmer
February is the shortest month of the year in our calendar, yet it is host to numerous holidays, observances, and celebrations from many different cultures and places. No week in the month goes by without several holidays and special occasions, religious and secular alike. Yes, we are all familiar with Valentine’s Day and Black History month, and we are probably all more aware of Asian observances such as the Lunar New Year. There are, for US citizens, birthday observances of two of our most popular Presidents, Lincoln and Washington. And, as all roots music fans know, t’is the season of Mardi Gras and New Orelans festivals, music and food. There are days dedicated to saints and other religious notables in this month. And February is also home to Random Acts of Kindness Week, Sisterhood-Brotherhood Week, Scottish Culture Month, National Peace Corps Week, and many more. February is a busy, busy month.
Much of this celebration and ritual observance is tied to what nature is doing when February rolls around. In the US we have Groundhog's Day to remind us that spring is coming back, and the awareness of that has always been a time for hope, optimism, and renewal. Ours, of course, is not the first or only culture to do that. All cultures do this, and the month before the arrival of spring has always been a ritual-rich time for humans. Many of our modern February observances are linked to the past.
The Romans, who were a great influence on our calendar, did not have separate months during the winter; winter was just a long period of time. January and February were the last months added to the Roman calendar by the legendary second king of Rome, Numa Pompilus, in about 713 B.C.E. February was the end of year for a long time. It was named for the full moon observance of februum, a 2 day festival of purification. There were several ritual celebrations during this month, in fact, honoring ancestors, purity, and fertility. They were also related to the changes in the natural and the animal worlds; things were happening to the fields and with the animals. Spring was on the way, and the city and its inhabitants needed to be pure if the new year was to be a good one. The new year had to be welcomed in the proper fashion. The Roman calendar was changed several times by the end of the Empire, but February was always the month before spring. So the idea of February as a time to prepare for the new year is seen in many of this month’s observances. Candlemass, Ash Wednesday, and Lent are all in some ways about preparing for spring in Catholic and Catholic influenced cultures. We see it in the Brazilian Carnival and New Orlean’s Mardi Gras- grand parties, feasting, and music before the cleansing time of Lent. Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures recognize an official Lunar New Year, which is obviously about renewal and starting over. Dress, food, and music are all preparations for having a good year. Hindus dress in yellow for Basant Panchami, recognizing the yellow flowers of the mustard seeds in the fields and the coming of new growth. February is both the announcement of and the preparation for the next part of our year.
So even as the snow is still on the ground, nature is telling us that its cycle is continuing. Change is quietly going on all the time. Nature does not stand still.
(Interested in holidays around the globe?