February 29, 2020

These Are the Days (and Months) of Our Lives

Namesakes of Our Days: Sunday and Monday are named for the sun and moon, and the next four are for Norse gods: Tuesday is from Tiu/Tiw, god of war. Wednesday is for Woden, aka Odin, supreme deity and Tiu’s father. Thursday is for Thor, god of thunder, Friday is for the goddess Frigga, who was also Odin’s wife, and Saturday is for Saturn, Roman god of feasting and fun (fittingly).

Namesakes of our Months:

January: Janus, Roman god of beginnings (fitting for the first month), but endings too.
February: From “Februa / Februalia,” a Roman purification and atonement festival held on February 15th.
March: Mars, god of war, because in old Rome March was the first month when the weather was nice enough to start a war (!), and it was harvest time. In 46 BC, however, January was declared the first month of the year.
April: Either from Latin “Aprillis” indicating “second,” since April was the second month in the pre-46 B.C. Roman calendar, or “aperire,” Latin for “to open”, like flower buds.
May: Maia, Greek earth goddess, who was busy in this blooming month.
June: Juno, Roman goddess of marriage and childbirth.
July: Since July was the birth month of Julius Ceasar, it was named in his honor after his assassination.
August: Augustus, Ceasar’s nephew and first emperor of Rome.
September: Septem, Latin for “seven”, since September was the seventh month in the pre-46 B.C. Roman calendar which started in March.
October: Octo, Latin for eight. See September.
November: Novem, Latin for nine. See September and October.
December: Decem, Latin for ten. See September, October, and November.

We say a year is 365 days, but that’s rounding down a bit. More exactly, the Earth orbits the sun once every 365.242189 days. That extra quarter-ish day has to go somewhere, so every 4 years, we have a “Leap Year” and give February a 29th day to make up the surplus. However, 0.242189 is slightly less than a quarter day, and this must be corrected over the centuries, too. The fix: leap years do not occur in years evenly divisible by 100 but not 400. The last time this happened was the year 1900, and it will happen again in 2100. Pope Gregory installed this fix in 1582, so now we call our calendar the “Gregorian Calendar.”