The Romans and the Celts regarded February as the start of spring.
February, along with January, was introduced onto the Roman calendar by Numa Pompilous when the calendar was extended from ten to twelve. The word February comes from the word 'februa' - which means cleansing or purification, and reflects the rituals undertaken before Spring.
The Anglo Saxons called February 'Sol-monath' (cake-month), because cakes were offered to the gods during that month. February was also known to the Saxons as 'sprout-kale' from the sprouting of cabbage or kale.
Having only 28 days in non-leap years, February was known in Welsh as 'y mis bach' - the little month.
In Shakespeare's time about 400 years ago, the second month of the year was called 'Feverell'. In Isaac Newton's time one hundred years later it had become 'Februeer'. The modern name, February, is only about a hundred years old.
(the Christian festival of lights )
2nd February is Candlemas Day. This ancient festival marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. In olden times, many people used to say that the Christmas season lasted for forty days - until the second day of February.
Robert Herrick in his poem 'Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve' writes,
DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).
How did this 2nd February come to be called Candlemas?
It was the day of the year when all the candles, that were used in the church during the coming year, were brought into church and a blessing was said over them - so it was the Festival Day (or 'mass') of the Candles.
Candles were important in those days not only because there was no electric lights. Some people thought they gave protection against plague and illness and famine. For Christians, they were (and still are) a reminder of something even more important. Before Jesus came to earth, it was as if everyone was 'in the dark'. People often felt lost and lonely. Afraid. As if they were on their own, with no one to help them. Then came Jesus with his message that he is with his followers always ready to help and comfort them. As if he is a guiding light to them in the darkness. Christians often talk of Jesus as 'the light of the World' - and candles are lit during church services to remind Christians of this.
Candlemas traditions, superstitions and weather lore
12 - 14 February were traditionally said to be 'borrowed' from January. If these days were stormy, the year would be favoured with good weather: but if fine, the year's weather would be foul. The last three days of March were said to be borrowed from April.
It is said that if the weather is fine and frosty at the close of January and the beginning of February, there is more winter ahead than behind.
When the cat lies in the sun in February
She will creep behind the stove in March.
Of all the months of the year
Curse a fair February.
If it thunders in February, it will frost in April.
If February give much snow,
A fine summer it doth foreshow.
The flower called snowdrop appears in February and is a symbol of hope. According to legend, the snowdrop became the symbol of hope when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. When Eve was about to give up hope that the cold winters would never end, an angel appeared. She transformed some of the snowflakes into snowdrop flowers, proving that the winters do eventually give way to the spring.
There is an old rhyme which says:
"The Snowdrop, in purest white array, First rears her head on Candlemas day."
The name snowdrop does not mean 'drop' of snow, it means drop as in eardrop - the old word for earring.
Snowdrops are also known as known as Candlemas bells.
The Latin name for the snow drop is Galanthus, which means "milk flower".
One of the strangest things ever to happen in England took place during the night of the 8th February 1855.
During the night, heavy snowfall blanketed the countryside and small villages of Southern Devon. In their houses, people huddled beneath their bedclothes on a night of intense cold. Slowly the first light of dawn came to reveal a bleak frozen landscape - and the footprints.
To the astonishment of all, when people left their houses they found thousands of mystery footsteps. These were in the shape of a cloven hoof, but they moved in single file. More astonishingly was the fact that they covered a distance of one hundred miles or more and went through fields, gardens, towns, and even over rooftops.
At first people were intrigued, but then became very frightened. The news swept quickly over the country and many people believed the footprints belonged to the devil. The London newspapers published the story and experts came to investigate the footprints, before the snow melted.
Nobody could offer any satisfactory solution to the mystery.
Shrove Tuesday marks forty days before Easter. The forty days are supposed to be a time of quietness and fasting. Shrove Tuesday (sometimes called Mischief Day) was the last day before Lent, so it was the last day for fun and food for a long time.
A special game of football is a played in February. It is played differently from the game our country is well known for. This game of football has no rules and is played on Shrove Tuesday. In some villages and towns traffic would be stopped and all the men would come out into the street at a set time. The church bell would ring and a football would be thrown into the crowd and the biggest ever football game was played. This game is still played in some places in England.
Skipping is also a traditional Shrove Tuesday game.
The last few days before Lent are known as Shrovetide. A time of feasting and revelry.
Collop Monday was traditionally the day to eat large pieces of fried meat.
Shrove Tuesday was the last time luxury foods could be used. All over Britain different Shrove Tuesday meals were made - sometimes it was broth (Scotland), or doughnuts (Hertfordshire), frying pan pudding (Lincolnshire) or pea soup (Cornwall) - but the most usual meal and the meal we still make today is pancakes.
Candlemas is a traditional Christian festival that commemorates the ritual purification of Mary forty days after the birth of her son Jesus. On this day, Christians remember the presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple. Forty days after the birth of a Jewish boy, it was the custom to take him to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented to God by his thankful parents.
In pre-Christian times, this day was known as the 'Feast of Lights' and celebrated the increase strength of the life-giving sun as winter gave way to spring.
This feast is called Candlemas because that was the day on which the year's supply of candles for the church were blessed.
St Valentines Day
This was originally thought to be the day on which birds chose their mates. There are many traditions and tales associated with romance activities on Valentines day including:
- the first man an unmarried woman saw on 14th February would be her future husband;
- if the names of all a girl's suitors were written on paper and wrapped in clay and the clay put into water, the piece that rose to the surface first would contain the name of her husband-to-be.
- if a woman saw a robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a rich person.
Each year in Britain, we spend around £503m on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts for Valentine's Day. Traditionally these were sent anonymously, but now-a-days we often make it clear who is sending each 'Valentine'.
Shrove Tuesday marks forty days before Easter.
Read more about Shrove Tuesday
Ash Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday)
A playground tradition was to carry a piece of twig from an ash tree in your pocket or down your sock. Anyone who didn't have an ash twig had his or her feet trodden on.
Find out more about Ash Wednesday
Kissing Friday (the Friday after Ash Wednesday)
Friday of Shrove Week, English schoolboys were once entitled to kiss girls without fear of punishment or rejection, a custom that lasted until at least the 1940s.
In Sileby, Leicestershire, Kissing Friday was called Nippy Hug Day. There men could demand a kiss from the woman of their choice, but if their petition was denied, they had the right to 'louse', or pinch, the woman's posterior - perhaps mimicking the pinching of lice?
This is the day when members of the Scout and Guide movements remember their founders Lord and Lady Robert Baden-Powell.
- (occurs once every four years)
We have created a special page about leap years
5th - Birth date of Robert Peel in 1788. Formed first police force in London, hence nickname 'Bobbies'.
6th - Queen Elizabeth ll came to the throne on this day in 1952.
7th - Charles Dickens was born in 1812
8th - A minor earthquake shook Britain in 1750.
8th - A strange thing occurred in Devon (see above)
11th - Sir Francis Drake became the first known Englishman to sail the pacific in 1578
11th - Thomas Edison born in 1847
The phonograph and the motion-picture projector were only a few of Thomas Edison's more than 1,000 inventions.
12th - Birth of Charles Darwin in 1809
14th - St Valentines Day
15th- In 1971 Britain went decimal. All the banks were shut on the 11th and 12th to prepare for the change over. Three million ponds was spent converting the country’s phone boxes to take the new two pence pieces. Every cash register in the country had to be changed.
20th - On this day in 1896 the cinema came to Britain when a programme of films was shown for the first time to a paying audience.
23rd - Birth of George Frederick Handel in 1685
23rd - Birth of Samuel Pepys in 1632