Look before you Leap!

This morning, my eight-year-old grandson asked me why February only has 29 days every four years. Since I was driving at the time, I couldn’t Google it and then impress him with a grandparent’s endless knowledge and wisdom. Instead, I had to wing it and rely on what little I remembered about leap year. When I got home, I did, indeed, Google it. As it turns out, I am the one impressed. It seems I was right. Well, mostly…..I lacked a few details. But it’s pretty interesting stuff!

We all know that it takes the earth one year to complete its orbit around the sun. But, it’s not exactly 365 days. It’s actually 365.2422 days. So, every fourth year, we add an extra day to keep the calendars and clocks in sync. We follow the Gregorian calendar – But what does that mean?

Originally, the Roman calendar had 355 days. Every two years, there was an extra month with 22-days. When Julius Caesar became emperor, he ordered his Royal astronomer to create something different. It was decided that a 365-day year, with an extra day every four years, was better. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar created the calendar system that closely resembles the one we still use today. 

500 years later, Pope Gregory XIII’s astronomers decided the calendar needed to lose three days every 400 years, in order to keep things even more accurate. They introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582.

The reason that February was chosen is interesting! According to the Julian calendar, under Julius Caesar, February had 30 days and July – the month named after him – had 31 days. August had only 29 days. When Caesar Augustus became Emperor, he added two days to ‘his’ month to make August the same as July. So, February lost two days to accommodate his ego. 

Technically, Leap Year does not fall every four years. There’s a leap year every year that is divisible by four, except for years that are both divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400. For example, The year 2000 was a leap year, but the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. This fix was added because an extra day every four years proved too much of a correction.
Personally, I am always blown away at the knowledge of astronomy the Romans had, all those centuries ago.

Leap year is also a customary time for a woman to propose marriage to a man. This custom likely began in the 5th Century, when St. Bridget, an Irish nun, complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait too long for the men to propose. St. Patrick allegedly appeased her by giving women the chance to propose every four years.

In Denmark, a man who turns down a proposal must give the woman 12 pairs of gloves. In Finland, the penalty is fabric for a skirt.

Other Leap Year tidbits:

  • The Summer Olympics are always held in a leap year. This year, they take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • US presidential elections are held in a leap year.
  • In Greece, people avoid getting married in a leap year, believing it is bad luck.
  • If you work for salary, today is one more day’s work than you are being paid for!

Whatever the tradition, one thing is certain: We are blessed with an extra day this year. Make of it what you will!


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