When I was a kid I always wanted to have my Birthday land on the 29th day of February. Then I would only age a year for every four years that everyone else did. Okay I was a strange child and didn’t really want to grow up. That is until I found out that boys weren’t all dirty, cootie ridden animals, and that they might be good for something after all. Taking out the trash, walking the dog and reaching high places to name a few. As it was I had to celebrate my Birthday on the 1st day of February. Oh yeah, Happy Birthday to me!
As I grew older my wish became to have twins. One born on the last day of December, and the other on the 1st day of January. What did I tell you, weird kid. I had a friend that had been born on a leap year and I so envied her, until I found out that her parents made her choose to celebrate her birthday every year; either, on the last day of February or the 1st day of March. What a gyp. But I never really thought about why there was a Leap Year. Did you? Well lets get down to the brass tacks, and discover why Leap Years occur.
A leap year, as opposed to a common year, has 366 days instead of the 365 days of the common year. We add the Leap Day on February 29th, almost every four years. The leap day is an extra day and we add it to the shortest month of the year. And the shortest month of the year is as we all know in February. So we end up adding an extra day to the end of February every four years. Since the last Leap Year was on the 29th of February, 2012, that means that this year, will also have a Leap Year. That means that next year Christmas Eve and Christmas will be a day ahead of what you were thinking. It won’t be on Friday and Saturday, It will be on Saturday and Sunday.
So now we understand that there is a Leap Year, it’s time to discuss why we add Leap Years. Here it is in simple terms. It’s a calendar issue. We add Leap Years to keep our modern day Gregorian Calendar in alignment with the Earth and it’s revolutions around the sun. Who knew that was going to be a problem? Right? But it is because it takes the Earth about 365.242199 days, to circle the sun. Now to make it simpler someone did the math for us and it works out to 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds to circle the just once around the Sun. This is known as a Tropical year.
The problem, however, is that the Gregorian calendar only has 365 days a year. So if we were negligent and we didn’t add a day every four years we would lose almost six hours off our calendar every year. So to make up for that every 4 years we add the 29th of February to the calendar. If we didn’t add that day, than in only 100 years our calendars would be off by about 24 days and we’d be in a world of hurt. No one would know when to plant crops, or harvest them. This happened during the Julian calendar, which was in use until our modern day Gregorian calendar was introduced. Confused yet? Oh just wait. I’ve got more information to impart!
So which years are years in which we have Leap Years? Well according to the Gregorian calendar there are three things that you have to take into account to identify a leap year. The first thing is that the year can be divided evenly by 4, so according to a math wiz that I’m familiar with 2016 meets that criteria. But here is where it gets interesting and I really have a need for the math wiz to do this part. If the year can be evenly divided by 100, then it is NOT a leap year. But (and there is always a but right?) the year is also evenly divisible by 400. If it can do that, well then you have yourself a leap year! That means that according to the Gregorian Calendar the years 2000 and 2400 are leap years but, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200,2300, and 2500 were not and are not going to be Leap Years! Now here is an interesting fun fact to that. The year 2000 was a special Leap Year, because it was the first time that the third criteria was used in most parts of the world since the transitions from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.
Who do we have to blame for the invention of Leap Years. Well that would be a certain Roman General by the name of Julius Caesar. He introduced Leap Years in the Roman empire over 2000 years ago. The Julian calendar had but one rule: any year that was divisible by 4 would be a leap year. This led to way too many leap years (oh, my stars things were getting out of control – those darn Romans!) None of this was corrected until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar more than 1500 years later.
Now of course, I’m not done yet. What would be the fun of this without just a bit of superstition and revelry. For instance; it’s a tradition in Ireland and Britain that says that a woman may propose marriage to her beloved. It is only appropriate during a leap year, of course. Let’s not get all worked up here. It is supposed that Queen Margaret of Scotland (who was only five at the time and living in Norway), required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man. An appropriate gift of leather gloves, a single rose, a kiss or a £1 (this is a pound note or money) could be given as compensation for a refusal. There was a tight restriction on women, only allowing them the one day, that of the modern leap day, to propose.
It is said that for a woman to take advantage of the day to pitch her woo, she was expected to wear a scarlet petticoat…to give fair warning to her target. Giving the coward ample warning to make himself scarce.
In Finland, the tradition is that if a man refuses the proposal of a woman on the leap day, then he must buy her the fabrics to make a skirt. And since 1980, yes that is a fair time to make a tradition, France publishes a satirical newspaper. The paper, La Bougie du Sapeur, is published on February 29th of the leap year. While in Greece, if you marry in a leap year, your marriage will be considered unlucky! It is believed that one in five couples planning a marriage in Greece will avoid planning to marry in a leap year.
So maybe now you will go about your Leap Year a bit better armed to handle the extra day we will have this year. Happy Leap Year! Is that a thing?