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7 February Holidays

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February is a tough month. We're in the final stretch of winter, and spring seems like a long way off. Maybe that's why they made it the shortest month. But that wasn't enough! To cheer everyone up, they've crammed as many holidays into that short period of time as humanly possible.

1. Groundhog Day, February 2

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You gotta love a holiday centered around weather. You might think it's about the animal, but no, any animal would have done just as well. The real reason Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2nd is that it is close to the midpoint of winter, halfway between the solstice and the equinox. Whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, we still officially have six more weeks of winter. But hope springs eternal.

2. Superbowl Sunday, February 3

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The manliest celebration of the year is on Superbowl Sunday. Professional football teams have been whittled down to the best of the AFC and the NFC. This year, it's the New York Giants vs. the New England Patriots. A tradition since 1967, Superbowl Sunday was a January holiday til 2004, when season creep pushed it into February. To celebrate properly, you should buy a big screen TV, stock up on beer and meal-sized snacks, and invite your friends over to watch the game. Remember to analyze all the expensive TV ads as well as the game. Here are more tips on hosting a Superbowl party.

3. Mardi Gras, February 5

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Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday". The date is also called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. It's the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting leading up to Easter. The purpose of Fat Tuesday is to use up all the temptations before the fast, whether alcohol, sugar, fatty foods, or wild carousing. The idea has expanded to an entire season of Carnival, since there's a lot of temptations out there.

4. Chinese New Year, February 7

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Chinese New Year is the beginning of the Spring Festival which runs 15 days and ends with the Lantern Festival. The date varies from year to year and depends on the lunar calendar. In Chinese astrology, each year is named after an animal in the zodiac, making a 12-year cycle. This February 7th is the beginning of The Year of the Rat. The New Year is a time of fresh beginnings, parades and fireworks, and symbols of good luck.

5. Valentines Day, February 14

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Originally the feast day of St. Valentine, this holiday may have been set at February 14th to replace Lupercalia, a Roman festival where lots were drawn to pair up men and women. Valentines Day has become the day when a woman's status at her workplace is set for the entire year according to the size of the delivery she receives from the florist. Or doesn't. But at least there are plenty of sweets.

6. President's Day, February 18

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Until 1968, we celebrated Lincoln's birthday on the 12th and Washington's birthday on the 22nd. The problem was that having two such holidays in the same month made employers leary of giving anyone either day off. As you need a day off to contemplate the awesomeness of our forefathers (and get to the white sale), Washington's birthday was moved to the third Monday in February. Lincoln's birthday remained on the 12th, but in popular use is combined with Washington's birthday to become Presidents Day and the newest three-day weekend. The effects were immediate: everyone forgot about Lincoln and Washington and made plans to get out of town.

7. Leap Day, February 29

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It's the date that only comes round once every four years, like the Olympics or the US presidential election. There are some exceptions, as you can see in the above flow chart. That in itself is reason enough for a holiday, isn't it? February 29th is the day that those who are celebrating birthdays get to make jokes about how they got their driver's liscence right after their fourth birthday, or are looking forward to retirement after their sweet 16th. Some communities celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day on February 29th. Although Al Capp, who invented the Sadie Hawkins tradition in his comic strip Li'l Abner placed it in the fall, there are those who think the opportunity for women to chase her own beau should be restricted to once every four years.

If that isn't enough for you, here's a longer list of special days in February. We do whatever we can to get through until spring.

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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
NOAH SEELAM, AFP/Getty Images

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

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A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
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Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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