Leap Day

Well, it’s February 29 — the day that comes once every four years.  By definition and by invention, it’s a weird day, and it’s not surprising that it’s associated with weird traditions and superstitions.

julius_caesarWe can thank Julius Caesar for Leap Day.  Caesar first came up with a standard 365-day calendar that featured an extra day every four years.  However, because the Julian calendar year did not precisely match the length of a solar year — the period of time it takes for the Earth to make one complete revolution around the Sun — and was instead .0078 days too long, the difference between the calendar year and the solar year accumulated after a dozen or so centuries and left the calendar seriously out of whack.  In 1583, Pope Gregory XIII fixed things by declaring that a “century year” (a year ending in 00) is a leap year only if it is evenly divisible by 400.

Those of us who were around on February 29, 2000 therefore can revel in the fact that, having survived the silly Y2K panic, we experienced a once-every-400-years event.  Just wait until we celebrate it again in 2400!

Pope Gregory’s tinkering is not the only bit of legislation associated with February 29.  If you are born on February 29, when do you officially celebrate your birthday during non-leap years — on February 28, or March 1?  Most states apparently decree, by statute, that you gain a year on March 1.  That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you’re a Leap Baby you’d be peeved if you had to wait an extra day to take your first legal drink at age 21.

I’m not doing anything special for Leap Day.  In fact, I don’t like Leap Day for two reasons.  First, why is Leap Day in February, which is inevitably the worst weather month of the year?  After all, Leap Day could have been put anywhere on the calendar.  It’s a totally random addition.  Why not put our extra day in a good weather month, like June or September?   After picking February, no wonder Caesar had to beware the Ides of March.

And second, in the United States a Leap Year always coincides with a presidential election year.  That means that, in addition to another day of crappy February, we get another day of spin, insults, political ads, and talking heads.  It’s almost enough to make you want to tell all of the candidates to take a Leap.

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