As most of you are aware 2020 is a leap year, meaning there is a February 29 this year. Every four years, the calendar adds a day in order to keep the calendar in line with the earth’s movement around the sun.
While the modern calendar contains 365 days, the actual time it takes for Earth to orbit its star is slightly longer – roughly 365.2421 days.
The boffins at history.com say while the difference might seem negligible, over decades and centuries that missing quarter of a day per year can add up.
To ensure consistency with the true astronomical year, it is necessary to periodically add in an extra day to make up the lost time and get the calendar back in sync with the heavens.
History.com says the Egyptians were, in fact, the first ones to figure out the need for a leap year, but it became more widespread in the reign of Julius Caesar.
The 365-day calendar was finalized in 46 B.C. and included a leap day every four years.
But, that wasn’t enough – because Caesar’s calendar was running a surplus of about 11 minutes a year a full day was added every 128 years – by the 14th century, the calendar was 10 days off the solar year. In 1582, Pope Gregory brought in the Gregorian calendar, which added this little fix – the leap year occurs every four years except for years evenly divisible by 100 and not by 400.
This is the fix that has lasted to this day, although history.com warns that in 10,000 years discrepancies will need to be addressed again.
So while that is the explanation for the leap year, it still leaves a burning question. Why is it called leap year?
As defined in the dictionary, a leap is to jump or spring a long way (verb), or a forceful jump or quick movement (noun).
We are actually adding a day in a leap year, not leaping over one. Or are we?
In fact, a leap year causes calendar dates to shift ahead two days rather than the standard one. For example, March 7, 2019, was a Thursday. On a normal year, March 7, 2020, would be on a Friday.
Because 2020 is a leap year, March 7, 2020, is a Saturday. This past Christmas was on a Wednesday, but the coming Christmas will be a Friday. Because of the leap year.
Do you feel smarter yet? Any other leap year trivia you’d like to absorb?
The chances of being born on February 29 are 1 in 1,461 because there is one February 29 every 1,461 days (four years). Also if you were born on a leap day, you are referred to as a ‘leapling’.
One famous leapling, James Milne Wilson, whose main claim to fame was being the eighth premier of Tasmania, was not only born on a leap day but died on one as well. It was his 68th birthday, or technically, his 17th. According to legend, it’s acceptable for women to propose to men on the actual leap day – February 29.
“Some say that this custom originated in fifth-century Ireland, where St. Patrick allowed women to take the initiative every four years after St. Brigid complained to him that they were having to wait too long for husbands.
“Others credit a Scottish law enacted in 1288 under the unmarried Queen Margaret, which allowed a maiden “liberty to bespeak ye man she likes” during a leap year. The knave who refused to marry her and could not prove his engagement to another was assessed a fine,” says Lynn E. Niedermeier, writing for Western Kentucky University
It’s quite possible that you will notice 29 per cent off sales on leap day at select merchants.
The first arrest warrants for witches in Salem, Massachusetts were issued on February 29, 1692.
Hobbits celebrate February 30 every year because in the Lord of the Rings universe, the calendar is twelve 30-day-months every year. Hobbits do not leap.
According to an old Scottish saying, “Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year”. So if you’re in the ovine business, keep an eye on your flock this year.
If you mix a dash of lemon juice, 2/3 gin, 1/6 Grand Marnier and 1/6 sweet vermouth you have the official leap day cocktail.
Sounds good, I’ll have a round of those.
Carolyn Grant is the editor of the Kimberley Bulletin.