Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness?
It seems that in much of the western hemisphere, February is an unpopular month. It’s deep winter, one of the coldest months, and apparently bleak by many standards.
I happen to like it. It's a month of football and rodeos, Punxsutawney Phil and Mardi Gras. You don't have to be able to ski down the blacks or even down the bunny slope. It doesn't matter if it's mild or freezing outside. There's plenty in February for everyone.
But why do we call it February? Not everyone does, obviously, but variations of Februarius are used in many countries.
We got it from the Romans, of course. They were everywhere, dispersing their customs and their language far and wide. January and February were the last two months added to the Julian calendar. February was named because it fell during the time of year that the Romans did a Spring cleaning of sorts. It was a purification ritual called Februa, certainly pre-Christian, which I find interesting. Lent, a time of penance and purification for many Christians, most often begins in February. This was not one of those convenient scenarios where a Christian occasion replaced a pagan one. Februa fell on the same day every year. Lent’s timing depends upon Easter’s, which depends upon when the spring equinox falls. Purification, februum, is clearly an ongoing process.
There are lots of saints and Christian holidays in February, to name a few:
February 1 – St. Brigid of Kildare, patron saint of Ireland
February 2 – Candlemas or Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple
February 9 – Feast of St. Maron, father of Maronite Catholics
February 14 – Saint Valentine’s Day
February 27 – Great Lent begins, Eastern Rite churches
February 28 – Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras
March 1 – Ash Wednesday
The word “shrove” comes from “shrive”, which denotes absolution. Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday is a day to be shriven or absolved of sins, a day of cleansing in preparation of Lent. In many places, the cleansing part has become the focal point, most notably when the day is called Mardi Gras. Isn’t it amazing how the cleaning out of pantries in preparation for Lent turned into a day (or weekend) of feasts and carnaval?
Before I close, I confess to one and all that I am a tree-hugger. I have, in fact, hugged lots of trees. I love them. I mention this because in the Jewish calender, there is a holiday, Tu B’Shevat that is the New Year for Trees. On this day, it is customary to eat fruit, especially to eat of the “seven species” mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 -- wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (honey from dates). Some of the faithful try tasting a new fruit on this day, others might plant a tree. It is a day of blessing the trees and thanking God for His goodness.
a monastery garden in Lebanon
Surely, the past, present, and future connect in this miraculous state we call life. In this light, history and all human experience are ever-present. Wouldn't it be nice, then, if we could enjoy each other, if we could appreciate and celebrate our differences? Let us love! Let us have fun. Let us toast each other and wish each other well. Now, in our awareness, is the time to be happy, to do our best, to live fully to our purest, highest standards.