February in the Northern Hemisphere is usually a bit grim weather-wise. It is reliably drizzly, often cold and frequently grey. The warmer weather of spring is still some way off and it is the month most likely to deliver on the winter promise of snow. Some people (the W&F team and their canine friends included) love this about February, whilst others dread the potential disruption to their lives and live in fear of a comedy-looking slip on ice that results in months of painful physio.
Another "love it or hate it" aspect of February is Valentine's Day, which can be a golden opportunity to let someone know you love them, an occasion to totally forget and be punished by your other half (until you have a chance to make up for it the following year) or a day that unnecessarily rubs it in that you have no SO.
A reliably good thing that often occurs in February is Pancake Day - or Shrove Tuesday, to your local vicar and your desk diary - which can take place as early as February 10th, when Easter is on 22nd March (the earliest date it can ever possibly be). Whether you are religious or not, the opportunity to scoff multiple pancakes dusted with sugar and saturated in lemon juice or lathered in an unhealthy amount of chocolate spread is a universal highlight in what is often a tricky month.
Pancake Day heralds the beginning of Lent, which gives self-denying types who are missing the deprivation they inflicted on themselves during Dry January, Veganuary or a double whammy of Dry Veganary another opportunity to take to social media and let everyone know they are giving up booze, chocolate, cheese and fun for a further six weeks. They may have February right though, as it's name comes from the Latin word 'februa', which means 'to cleanse'.
The History of February
The old Roman calendar only contained 10 months (March - December). February was the last to be added, in 713BC. It was named after an early Roman festival of atonement and purification (which seemed to involve a lot of spring cleaning) and has changed length several times - at one point in its history it only had 23 days because the Romans added an extra month, 'Intercalaris', every few years and had to shorten February to accommodate it.
It was Julius Ceasar who scrapped Intercalaris and decided that February should have 28 days and 29 every leap year.
Reasons to Love February
As the only month of the year to change the number of days it contains and the only one not to have 30 days or more, February is unique. Where all the other months are intransigent, February flexes to accommodate the strangeness of an extra day every four years. It holds the calendar together and allows the rest of the year to make more sense. It must be very weird to have a birthday on 29th February and to only be able to celebrate it properly one year out of every four. The presents in a leap year would want to be really good!
Anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere who was born in February may be fed up with the propensity for it to drizzle on their birthday. It should be reassuring that in the Southern Hemisphere it is high summer, so all you need to do is save up and relocate for your birthday each year - Sri Lanka, Vietnam or Guadeloupe, anyone?
Anyone who finds that they - or their kids or pets - go a bit loopy during a full moon (or that they struggle to sleep when the moon is full) should love February, as it is the only month in which it is possible to go without a full moon.
In Finnish, February is called Helmikuu, which means 'Month of the Pearl' because fluctuations in temperature cause snow to melt and refreeze on tree branches, creating frozen drops that resemble pearls.
Groundhog Day takes place on February 2nd. Originating in the Dutch population of Pennsylvania, it was traditionally believed that if it is a sunny groundhog day you should expect six more weeks of winter but if it is cloudy then spring is imminent. This sprang from the belief that a groundhog emerging from hibernation on that day would be scared back into his burrow by his own shadow but would proceed with the hard work of spring if it was cloudy and he had no shadow to be spooked by.
February’s birthstone is amethyst, which is not only a totally dreamy semi-precious stone, it also has a great back story that makes us smile each time we put on a design that includes an amethyst.
The word Amethyst comes from the Greek word ametusthos, which means “not intoxicated” and throughout history Amethyst has been linked to preventing drunkenness and over-indulgence.
Obviously the Ancient Greeks and Romans had their own special take on this, routinely inlaying Amethyst in their goblets to prevent the wine within from having the power to intoxicate (rather than using it to help them stop drinking in the first place!)
Today amethyst is associated with faithful love, contentment, wisdom and understanding. It is a talisman for focus and success that is believed to calm hot tempers.
Inspiring People with February Birthdays
Rosa Parks, 4th February 1913
February is Black History Month, so it seems appropriate to lead our list with the first lady of civil rights. Famously saying ‘Nah’ when asked to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, her arrest on 1st December 1955 launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott. However, her commitment to activism began long before she shot to fame for her bus-based defiance.
By the time the bus boycott took place she had been the secretary of the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for 12 years and founded the organisations youth council in the early 1940s. After the bus boycott Parks lost her job as a tailor and received numerous death threats. She and her family moved to Detroit in 1957, but she remained an active member of the NAACP and, in 1987, she established the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute Of Self-Development to offer job training for black youth.
Thomas Edison, 11th February 1846
This businessman and inventor has made our list, not because he is one of the greatest inventors in history (which he undoubtedly was), but for the grit and determination he showed prior to his success:
- His school teachers said he was ‘too stupid to learn anything’, so it is hardly surprising that he didn’t do well at school and ended up being homeschooled by his mum.
- Edison lost most of his hearing when he was 12 years old, but claimed that not being able to not hear meant he could concentrate more fully on his work.
- He once saved a child from being hit by a runaway train and, in gratitude for saving his child’s life, the father gave Edison training as a telegraph operator. This kickstarted his interest in communications, which would be the focus of much of his life’s work.
- Before he eventually succeeded, Edison had 1000 failed attempts at inventing the lightbulb. When asked by a journalist how it felt to have failed so many times he responded: "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."
Charles Darwin 12th February 1809
- Born in Shrewsbury to a successful doctor father, Darwin was all set to join the medical profession too, but he dropped out of medical school in Edinburgh because he found the lectures boring and he didn’t like the sight of blood.
- He had a fondness for exotic meats and presided over the Gluttons Club in Cambridge, where they dined on all manner of things, from hawks to armadillos.
- When considering his options and wondering whether to get married, he wrote a pros and cons list. One of the pros he noted was “constant companion (and friend in old age)…better than a dog anyhow”. I’m sure Emma Darwin was delighted to be favourably compared to a series of devoted labradors.
- Most famous for his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, he caused huge controversy when he finally published his findings, as evolution from apes contradicted the religious belief that mankind was created by god.
Elizabeth Taylor, 27th February 1932
If Charles Darwin is the ‘wild’ in this list then Liz Taylor is the ‘fine’. Born in London to American parents and most famous for her striking violet eyes and her many husbands (she was married eight times to seven different men), this screen icon was also renowned for her love of jewellery. Our favourite piece in her impressive collection is a gold charm bracelet, which featured charms gifted by Zeffirelli (to commemorate her role in The Taming of the Shrew) and by Richard Burton (for her Cleopatra). One of the most precious and personal charms is a gold ball-shaped locket engraved with the names of her five children.
Our favourite Elizabeth Taylor quote:
“I feel as though I’m only the custodian of my jewelry. When I die and they go off to auction I hope whoever buys them gives them a really good home.”
Our favourite Richard Burton quote:
“I introduced Elizabeth Taylor to beer and she introduced me to Bulgari.”