January 28, 2013

February – The Shortest Month… but packed full of activities, events and history

By Eloise Graham

On February 2, we get to find out if we have six more weeks of winter or not. Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is widely known as the forecaster of the day. There is historical reference to “Groundhog Day” dating back to 1841. Recently, many other communities have added a rodent of some kind to forecast the coming of spring. The celebrations and hoopla that accompany this have become more of the sign of spring coming than the actual sighting of the shadow.

New Orleans knows how to throw a party. They will be hosting Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, February 3, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But, the party doesn’t stop with the final score. It is also Mardi Gras time in New Orleans.

The parades and partying of Mardi Gras actually begin on January 7, the day after “Twelfth Night” or Epiphany. These are lesser parades and parties with different themes, some afternoon parties, all leading up to the BIG parade on Fat Tuesday. Of course, all of the partying must stop at midnight on Fat Tuesday. This year, it is on February12.

Fat Tuesday is so called because that is the day of feasting before the Lenten Season. All foods derived from meat had to be used up before Lent. That meant that lard, since it was rendered from animal fat, had to be consumed before midnight. Hence, pancake suppers on Tuesday nights became a popular thing. It used up lard and the sausage or bacon or whatever meat was still on hand.

Now, pancake suppers bring us to another festivity! Fat Tuesday is also known as International Pancake Day. Liberal, Kansas and Olney, England have a pancake race held on that day. Women race down the streets of the town flipping pancakes. This friendly competition has been going on for more than sixty years. The towns have now expanded the race categories to include children and men. It is a time for community parties in these two towns.

Wednesday, February 13 is Ash Wednesday. This is the beginning of Lent, six weeks before Easter. The date of Ash Wednesday varies from year to year because the date of Easter changes.

Valentine’s Day is February 14. The history of Valentine’s Day and its patron saint is somewhat shrouded in mystery. The Catholic Church recognizes three St. Valentines, all of whom were martyred. Perhaps the most recognized theory is of one saint that was imprisoned. Legend says that he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter who came to see him on a regular basis. Before his execution, he wrote her a love letter and signed it, “From Your Valentine.”

Presidents’ Day is also celebrated in February. George Washington’s birthday was February 22. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was February 12. These dates had become national holidays to honor these great presidents of ours. Then in 1971, when Congress made the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, it was decided ALL presidents should be honored, and that day would be the Monday closest to February 22, Washington’s birthday.

February 24 is the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book of Esther. Purim is the story of the
deliverance of the Jews from their enemies in Persia. Esther was a young Jewish girl living in Persia, married to the king. It was through her
wisdom and cunning that the Jewish people were saved.

My information is taken from childhood memories and the internet topics of Fat Tuesday, Groundhog’s Day, Pancake Day, February dates, the Purim Story, and Presidents Day. If you want more information on any of the interesting topics, please look them up! If you don’t have access to a computer to google the item, go to your public library.

Enjoy this fun-packed month, and I’ll be back in March.