Since at least 1909, a superstition has lived in North American and the United Kingdom that if a person says or repeats the word “rabbit” upon waking up on the first day of the month, good luck will follow for the remainder of that month.
Elements of the tradition exist in the United Kingdom, New England, and even in various First Nation cultures.
While I’m not necessarily endorsing the superstition, it provides a way to look in depth at each month of the year, from history and observances to miscellaneous trivia. The topic this month is February.
February comes from the Roman month Februarius, named after the Latin term februum, which translates to purification. A purification ritual called Lupercalia (dies Februatus) was held on the 15th of the month, coincident with the full moon, which used instruments called februa to avert evil spirits, purify the city, and release health and fertility.
January and February were the last two months to be added to the Roman calendar, since the Romans originally considered winter a monthless period. It was the last month of the calendar year until the time of the decemvirs (around 450 BC), when it became the second month. It was at times truncated to 23 or 24 days, and a 27-day intercalary month called Intercalaris was occasionally inserted immediately after February to realign the year with the seasons.
Ancient February was full of holidays and observances that have no parallel in the modern Gregorian calendar. Along with Lupercalia, these included Amburbium (date unknown), Sementivae (February 2), Februa (February 13–15), Parentalia (February 13–22), Quirinalia (February 17), Feralia (February 21), Caristia (February 22), Terminalia (February 23), Regifugium (February 24), and Agonium Martiale (February 27).
When the Julian calendar came into existence, a leap day was inserted once every four years at the end of February. This tradition continued with minor changes as the Gregorian calendar took over.
Historical names for February include the Old English terms Solmonath (mud month) and Kale-monath (named for cabbage) as well as Charlemagne’s designation Hornung. In Finnish, the month is called helmikuu, meaning “month of the pearl” because when snow melts on tree branches, it forms droplets that look like pearls of ice when they freeze again. Similarly, in Polish and Ukrainian, the month is called luty or лютий (“lyutiy“), meaning the month of ice or hard frost.
In Macedonian the month is sechko (сечко), meaning month of cutting (typically wood), and in Slovene, February is traditionally called svečan, related to icicles or Candlemas. This comes from sičan, also svičan and sečan, meaning “the month of cutting down of trees”.
In Czech, it is called únor, meaning month of submerging (typically of river ice). Another Slovenian name was vesnar, after the mythological character Vesna.
In Canada and the United States, February is Black History Month (or African American History Month). This observance celebrates and educates people about the culture and history of the African diaspora.
The United States adds several other observances: American Heart Month, National Bird-Feeding Month, National Children’s Dental Health Month, and Turner Syndrome Awareness Month.
The United States also has several food related observances, including Be Kind to Food Servers Month (in the state of Tennessee), California Dried Plum Digestive Health Month, Hot Tea Month, National Soup Month, and Oatmeal Month.
On the international stage, the Season of Nonviolence runs from January 30th to April 4th.
Astronomically, February is full of meteor showers:
- Alpha Centaurids (early February)
- Beta Leonids, also known as the March Virginids (lasting from February 14 to April 25, peaking around March 20)
- Delta Cancrids (appearing December 14 to February 14, peaking on January 17)
- Omicron Centaurids (late January through February, peaking in mid-February)
- Theta Centaurids (January 23 – March 12, only visible in the southern hemisphere)
- Eta Virginids (February 24 and March 27, peaking around March 18)
- Pi Virginids (February 13 and April 8, peaking between March 3 and March 9)
- February is the only month that can pass without a single full moon. This last happened in 2018 and will next happen in 2037.
- February is the only month that can pass without a single new moon. This last happened in 2014 and will next happen in 2033.
- February’s birthstone is the amethyst. It symbolizes piety, humility, spiritual wisdom, and sincerity.
- The western zodiac signs of February were Aquarius (until February 18, 2020) and Pisces (February 19, 2020 onwards). In 2021 they will shift to 17–18 due to the leap day in 2020.
- The month’s birth flowers are the violet, the common primrose, and the Iris.
Rabbit Rabbit is a project designed to look at each month of the year with respect to history, observances, and more.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.