What's the deal with Leap Year?
Every four years we find ourselves with an extra day at the end of February – a “Leap Day,” and 2016 is a leap year.
The Leap Year has an interesting origination. I’m sure we were all told about the reason behind leap years in elementary school. I had to read up a little bit to refresh my memory on the phenomenon. Here’s the deal, for those of you in my shoes.
Before Julius Caesar came into power, around 60 B.C., there was a 355-day calendar with the addition of an extra 22-day month every two years. Caesar was not a fan of this calendar, so his astronomer devised a new system. His calendar was the first use of the 365 day calendar with a Leap Day added every four years on Feb.29.
It was thought for years that it took the Earth 365.25 days to orbit the sun. So, to account for the partial day, an extra day was added to the calendar every four years to even things out. When Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar, his astronomers found that the Earth’s orbital period is actually 365.24219 days – slightly less than previously thought. This meant that an adjustment needed to be made, as adding an extra day every fourth year would eventually lead to the calendar getting out of sync with the seasons. Now, a Leap Day is added every fourth year except for years that are not exactly divisible by 400. Whew! Who knew?
Do you know why February only has 28 days when all of the other months have 30 or 31 days? The reason traces back to ancient Rome, again. When Julius Caesar was in power, February had 30 days. Then Caesar Augustus became emperor and became upset that his month, August, only had 29 days when Julius Caesar’s month, July, had 31 days. Augustus took two days from February to add to August. Poor February.
So there you have it – the history of the Leap Year. Not only does the Leap Year have a rich origination story, but some interesting traditions and folklore also accompany this unique day.
Did you know that there is a tradition of women proposing on a Leap Day? This was news to me. Apparently this tradition can be traced back to the fifth century when St. Bridget asked St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men because women were having to wait too long for their mate’s proposal. St. Patrick gave women one day – Leap Day – every four years for their proposals. This break with convention was considered allowable because English law did not recognize Leap Days as actual days.
Other countries have different takes on this tradition. In Denmark, if a man does not accept the woman’s proposal, he has to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. Finland’s tradition states that the man must gift the woman fabric. Greeks see leap years as unlucky and avoid marrying during those years.
If you are born on a leap day, you can join the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies and may also be referred to as a “leapling.” A Utah resident holds a Guinness world record for birthing three consecutive leaplings– one in 2004, 2008, and 2012. What are the odds? Apparently one in 1,461, just in case you were wondering.
Looking for some Leap Day reads or watches? Check out “Almost Super,” by Marion Jensen. This is a book geared toward kids in grades three through seven and chronicles a family where members over age 12 receive a super power on Feb. 29. Looking for something more theatrical? Get your hands on a copy of “The Pirates of Penzance.” For the young adults out there, pick up a copy of “Leap Day,” by Wendy Mass. This novel explores the fourth Leap Year birthday of a sixteen-year-old girl.
Are you a fan of comedy sitcoms? Check out the “Leap Day” episode of season 3 of “Modern Family.”
Remember, even though a leap day only comes around once every four years, the library is still open! If you want to find out more about Leap Years or Days, stop by and we’ll get you all set up.