Few people these days can claim they have too much time on their hands. For most of us, there never seems to be enough hours in a day. We find ourselves bemoaning, ‘If I only had an extra hour…’ or ‘If I just had one day…’
Well, this year, and nearly every four years we do get an “extra day.” (If you are geeky enough to want the exact calculation, click here and don’t even get me started about leap seconds.)
In ancient times, they actually added a day, today, February 24th, resulting in two days with the same date. It had to do with counting the days backwards from March 1st, or ante diem sextum Kalendas Martii (“the sixth day before the calends of March”). (Note: It’s also known as the bissextile day, but merely the looks of that world conjures up an entirely unrelated subject.)
March 1st, at one time, was the beginning of the year and also explains why February only has 28 days, normally. When certain Roman emperors wanted to add more days to their specific month they just grabbed them off the end of the year – i.e. February.
But why is it called Leap Year, when you aren’t leaping anything? More accurately, as they did above, you repeat a day or go backwards. In my overly logical, left brained, highly literal brain, the other years should be called Leap Years, as you leap over or do not observe February 29th (or the second February 24th, as it were), and this once every almost four year event should be called Non Leap Year. However, that term certainly does not have the same ring.
Just in case you’re interested, it’s called a leap year because it causes certain holidays or festivals to leap from their prescribed day relative to the previous year (e.g. if St. Patrick’s Day was on a Tuesday one year, then it would normally be on Wednesday the following year unless it’s a leap year where it leaps another day to Thursday).
One of the most well known traditions for Leap Day allows a woman to propose marriage to a man (not as unheard of in modern times as it once was). In some places, if the man refused, he was required to compensate the woman for the slight. Although it’s tempting to want to keep that particular condition around, in this modern day of politically correctness it would likely be set into some anti-discrimination law requiring it to work both ways; which would have further consequences such that no one would ever propose to anyone ever again for fear of having to pay some kind of recompense if the person refused.
February 29th should, however, be turned into an international holiday so that you could actually do all those things you don’t have time to do in a normal day, week, or year. Feel free to begin lobbying your local government for that particular benefit; however, refrain from holding your breath, waiting for it to come to fruition.
Anyway, there you are, here’s that extra day you’ve always wanted. Make the most of it (that is, unless you have to work, under which circumstances you might consider starting that referendum for an additional holiday).
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