Hey, folks. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s only a week left in February. Most people (in the states, anyway) associate this month with holidays like Valentine’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the occasional Leap Year bizarreness. With all that stuff to think about, it’s easy to overlook the month itself. Aside from being the shortest of the twelve, February is the hardest to pronounce. Seriously, try saying February out loud. Correctly.
Go on, don’t be shy.
Yeah, that ‘r’ in the middle doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. You’ve got the Romans to thank for the awkwardness. February comes from the Latin term februum, which means purification. It refers to Februalia, a purification ritual held on the 15th. Rather than scrubbing up the house, their version of spring cleaning was more about the cleansing of the self; there was a focus on sacrifices and atonement for previous misdeeds. Not exactly the Valentine’s Day you were expecting, was it? It makes sense, considering that February used to be the last month on the calendar; what better way to kick off New Year’s than cleansing yourself of the past?
The idea caught on so well that it even got its own deity. Februus was the Roman god of – you guessed it – purification. He lived in the underworld, which would’ve taken the whole cleansing thing to the spiritual level. The Etruscans also considered him a god of wealth and the dead, which means he had to share the spotlight with Pluto, the ruler of the afterlife. I’m pretty sure you can figure out who won that popularity contest. You can’t get much cooler than being King of the Afterlife. Or having a wife as awesome as Persephone, for that matter. Just think, our last planet-that’s-not-actually-a-planet could’ve been called Februus.
Oh, and watch your spelling and pronunciation. Februus could easily be mistaken for Febris, the Roman goddess of fevers and malaria. Because those usually involve a completely different kind of cleansing.