February Fill Dyke and all that Jazz . . .

February is the second month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is the shortest of the months, with only 28 days in common years and 29 days every fourth or leap year. Having only 28 days, February is the only month that can pass without having a full moon – as occurred this year (2018) when the last full moon was on January 31. February is also the third and last month of winter in the northern hemisphere, the equivalent of August, the last month of summer, in the southern hemisphere.

January and February did not exist in the old Roman calendar. The winter season was a monthless period and the year consisted of only ten months. These two months were added around 700 BC/BCE by Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (after Romulus).

The name of the month comes from either the name of the old Roman god, Februus, or from februa, which signifies the festivals of purification celebrated in Rome on February 15  (a full moon in the old Roman lunar calendar).

The Anglo Saxon names for February were Solmonath, meaning Mud Month, and sometimes Kalemonath, named after cabbage. Solmonath was the usual name – and we don’t have to look too far to see why. These photos were taken down our local lanes this week. No shortage of mud here!

A Victorian painting by Benjamin Williams Leader entitled February Fill Dyke (first exhibited in 1881) became very popular when later shown at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition. However, the painting was of a November evening after rain! (What a swizz!)  You can see the painting here.

Solmonath has sometimes also been thought by some to mean Sun Month – the month when the sun seems to be (noticeably) coming back from its winter retreat ‘down under’. That makes sense, since ‘sol’ means ‘sun’ in Latin. And, according to the Venerable Bede, February was known as Cake Month – when Anglo Saxons offered cake to their gods.

In the UK, although February can still be cold, many of us start looking forward to spring. Some parts of the country can be covered in snow, while others see little but grey skies, wind and rain. One day can be nice and sunny, and the next day it snows – as  these photos from the last couple of days show:

Garden in the sunshine, February 25:

Garden and lane in the snow, February 26:

The unpredictable nature of the month forms the basis of this rhyme, which often means little to people, even in Britain:

February fill the dyke
Be it black or white
But if it’s white
It’s better to like

So, whether the month is rainy and black/grey or white and snowy, the dykes still fill up. And what is a dyke…? Simply another old English name for a ditch. And across the countryside, farmers have dug thousands of drainage ditches over the years, Here are some photos of  a couple of dykes I took around our lanes a couple of days ago:

The birth flowers for February are the viola/violet and the primrose:

February’s birthstone is the amethyst:

Amethyst. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

The birth signs for February are Aquarius (until the 19th) and Pisces (from the 20th onwards):

In the UK there are a few special days to note, some of which are also celebrated elsewhere in the world. As I’ve written posts about some of them in past years, I won’t repeat them here.The two main ones are Shrove Tuesday, commonly known as Pancake Day  and celebrated as Mardi Gras in some countries.

and Saint Valentines Day.

To finish, here are just a few  of the many famous historic events that took place in February:

  1. February 7, 1964. The Beatles first visit to the USA:

2. February 8, 1587.  Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I of England:

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. Artist: Nicholas Hilliard c 1578. Public Domain.

3. February 12, 1809. President Abraham Lincoln of the U.S.A was born:

Abraham Lincoln. Artist: Alexander Gardner, 1821-1882. Author: Moses Parker Rice copyrighted the portrait in the late 19th century. Public Domain

4. February 21, 1804. British engineer, Richard Trevithick, demonstrated the first steam engine on wheels

Portrait of Richard Trevithick. 1816. Author: John Linnell 1792-1882. Public Domain

5. February 23, 1863. Lake Victoria in Africa was declared to be the source of the Nile by British explorers John Speke and JA Grant:

Routes taken by different explorers around Lake Victoria. Image produced by Richard G. Clegg using freely available map data and software. Creative Commons

One more day to go and it will be March. Let’s hope the sun finds its way back soon!

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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30 Responses to February Fill Dyke and all that Jazz . . .

  1. Jeanne says:

    Hi Millie…a fun post. I love reading about fun traditions from other countries…Pancake Day…a wonderful one to add to my family holiday repertoire! And now on to the Winds of March and Pi Day 3.14(!)

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Jeanne. I’m a stranger to WordPress these days, and look forward to getting back into the swing of things in a couple of months. Pancake Day is such an old tradition here, but like so many age-old customs, many “modern” parents don’t bother with it. Many primary schools try to keep the idea alive by having mini-pancake races and such like, but overall, like Bonfire Night in November, it tends to be overlooked. I’m a stickler for old customs – but then again, I’m a bit of an old fossil myself! LOL 😀 Yes, March winds are on the way… (I’ll have to look up Pi Day. I ]’m guessing it’s a special day over there in U.S.) 🙂

  2. Shivangi says:

    Great informative post Millie❤️

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Shivangi. Lovely to ‘see’ you again. I only have March and April to do now in order to finish the year. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when I started my month-by-month posts! I do enjoy doing them, although I realise they’re very long. ❤

  3. Absolutely fascinating, Millie. And fun. I didn’t know at least half – well, most of it, really! Hope all is tickety-boo with you.

    • milliethom says:

      I’m not sure about being ‘tickety-boo’, Mike – perhaps it’s more a case of just ticking along. 😀 I hope you are well, too, and still enjoying posting about the great sites of Britain. I have a huge list of posts ‘to do’ from visits we’ve made over the last couple of years. I’ve learnt a lot myself from doing these posts about the months. The history behind them is, indeed, quite fascinating!

  4. arv! says:

    Happy to read your post, Millie. Since you were missing for a long time I assume you were busy creating this post. 😜

    • milliethom says:

      Ha ha. I wish this post was all I’d had to do, Arv, I’m trying to get the third book of my trilogy finished, in between coping with family ill health and our own attempts to sell our house. I won’t go on about the rest! LOL. Thanks for visiting. I have to keep these monthly posts going because I only have two more to do now to complete the year. I miss my blog and hope to be able to post more regularly very soon. 😀

  5. leggypeggy says:

    Nice to see you posting. February is special in our family. My grandmother was born on the 29th.

    • milliethom says:

      Peggy, my tail is between my legs. I haven’t posted – or visited people’s blogs – for ages. So many family issues have taken my time. But I hope to be able to visit people’s blogs soon. I miss your wonderfully informative posts and look forward to reading some of them again soon.
      I imagine your grandmother, born on the 29th, was seen as quite a special lady by her family!.

  6. Michael says:

    Hello Millie,
    I was only thinking this morning that I had not seen you for a while, and so looking at my reader I see you here and as always a fascinating post. I have to say I am looking forward to the cooler autumn weather as it’s been hot for many weeks down here. In fact, this morning was down to around 12C and very refreshing. Thanks for sharing all you know about February as after today we move into March. Have a good day.

    • milliethom says:

      I haven’t posted for ages, Michael, and I know I’m really late with my “February” post. Sometimes, life just gets in the way. I know you will understand when I say that last year was not a good year for my family. We had so many health issues and other family problems to deal with, which left little time for anything else. I’m hoping 2018 will be so much better.
      I can imagine how much you are looking forward to the cooler days of autumn. Our one visit to Australia was in your late spring (mid October-early November) and that was so hot to us! I can imagine that autumn will be such a relief. But I imagine you are used to such temperatures.
      I hope you are keeping well, Michael, and hope to catch up with some of your posts very soon.

  7. irinadim says:

    Hello Millie!
    Fascinating post, as usual! At our local church, the Rector’s wife cooked 180 pancakes for Pancake Day! And you could choose the filling, savoury or sweet, first savoury, then sweet ! Most delicious. 😊
    I’m glad you’re back, but sorry to hear you’ve been through rough times. I do hope 2018 will be a better year for you. ❤

    • milliethom says:

      The Rector’s wife deserves a medal. I used to spend hours cooking pancakes when all our six children were at home. They always wanted so many each, and so did Nick. But that doesn’t compare to 180! I’m the only one on our house who likes savoury pancakes, too. All the rest so for an assortment of sweet fillings.
      I hadn’t realised that Australia continued the Pancake Day tradition, either. It isn’t as popular now as it was years ago, and it tends to be the older generations who still keep it going.
      Yes, let’s hope 2018 is a good year for us all. ❤ 😀

      • irinadim says:

        I agree with you, Millie, about the Rector’s wife deserving a medal. She told me she did it over two days, but that’s still a great number of pancakes in one day. I used to be able to make them, but not any more. 🙂

  8. Joy Pixley says:

    Great to see you back again, Millie! I love all the photos of your world, and how changeable weather can be in February. And yes, please do look up Pi Day. It’s not so much an American holiday as a math/science geek holiday. I have been known to celebrate it with a Pi Party, complete with spinach pie baked with the Greek letter (Pi) in the middle. 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Joy. Yes, I’m sort of back, but not fully up and running just yet. I still have a book to finish and I’m determined to do it by late May.
      This February has been weird. Most of it has been quite mild in our area, but these last few days have been the coldest we’ve had all winter. Last night’s temps. dropped to -7C and it’s a really cold, easterly wind (the bad weather is coming from the continent). Next week’s forecast sounds a lot better. I imagine it’s wonderfully warm in California! Lucky you. 😀
      I’ve looked up Pi Day and it sounds a lot of fun. I can also see why it’s held on that date, too. (3.14 and all that). I’m not sure of the relevance of spinach pie, though – or is that just something you like to make? I suppose ‘pie’ of any kind is a must for Pi Day.
      I hope your writing and blog are doing well. From what I’ve seen on Goodreads (on the odd occasion I visit) you’re doing lots of reading, too. My TBR list is miles long and not getting any shorter right now. 🙂

      • Joy Pixley says:

        It’s been unusually cold here, too – the coldest it’s been all winter. Although since this is “cold for California,” I won’t torture you with the actual temperature.

        Yes, any kind of pie is appropriate for Pi Day. Most people make dessert pies, but I wanted something more savory to serve as an appetizer.

        I increased my reading goal on Goodreads again this year, so we’ll see if I can keep up. I am “supposed” to be reading more books that are in the same subgenre as my novel (to find the comps that agents want to hear), but somehow I keep reading other types instead.

  9. draliman says:

    So we have Numa Pompilius to thank for January and February. Humph. If it hadn’t been for him we could have gone straight from Autumn to Spring.

  10. milliethom says:

    Haha! I agree, If he’d left things as they were, I wouldn’t need to bother hibernating from January to March every year! Thank for that great comment, Ali.:D

  11. Another excellent post, with the unpredictability well illustrated

  12. milliethom says:

    Thank you, Derrick. As we all know, every month in this country is unpredictable, but we live with it, don’t we? I think the south of the country has had more snow than we’ve had, too. Hope spring gets here soon. I thought it was on its way until a few days ago. 😦

  13. Happy 1st of March, Spring has come…only in calendar yet! Here is snowing heavily! What an interesting post, dear Millie, happy to see you here!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Ann. I’ve just been reading some of your posts, and watched your fabulous video of snow in Kiev. We’ve had relatively little in my area, compared to that, although some areas of Britain have had 8 inches, I believe. I’m just longing for spring! 😀

  14. Antonia says:

    How interesting Millie! I am really enjoying these posts!

  15. Sheila says:

    I love your snow photos, especially when you can see the snowflakes there in the air – it looks so magical. February is usually Mud Month around here too. Such a crazy mixture of different kinds of weather this time of year – I’m glad you’re enjoying it all from the mud to the snow and back again!

  16. DG MARYOGA says:

    Hi Millie!What a brilliant February post with a very originative title!February brings the rain,
    thaws the frozen lakes again,but this year you had to weather the weather under extreme weather conditions.The “Beast from the East” & Emma battered UK dramatically.I do hope you and your family are keeping well.Loved your snow-clad sceneries and all your lovely flowers that flourish during winter.All your references to February were so impressively presented and accompanied by lovely photos.Best to you,my friend.Take care 🙂

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