by Gina Caswell Kelly
It is Leap Year, which is such an interesting concept. It just seems odd that we can just arbitrarily add a day to a year and everything is just fine. How can this be? Well, I have been doing a little research on the subject and I now know more than I ever wanted to know about Leap Year, and you too can have this same knowledge if you choose to keep reading!
While we call this year Leap Year, February 29th is also known as Leap Day. These additional 24 hours are built into the calendar to ensure that it stays in line with the Earth’s movement. This, you probably already knew. Our regular year is 365 days, but the actual time it takes for Earth to orbit the Sun is slightly longer. Longer to the tune of 365.2421 days. This may seem to be a small thing, but without correction, we would eventually (A long eventually, granted) be celebrating December and Christmas in the middle of Summer. So, to ensure that this never happens and that we can all continue to dream of White Christmases, Leap Year has to be observed every four years. I know there are many of you who thought the extra Leap Year day was to guarantee that we would all have just one more day to decide for whom to vote in the upcoming election. Trust me. I have seen some of the candidates. It is going to take a heck of a lot longer than just one day!
The Egyptians were the first to calculate the need for this additional day. They didn’t want to add additional days to their calendar, scheduling conflicts and what have you. So, they just added five days of festivals and partying at the end of the year in days that had no date. Just party like it’s 3100 B.C.! (I am really not sure why our additional Leap Day every four year could not be a National Holiday and cause for a party or celebration of some sort. Cookies and gift giving come to mind.)
Until the days of Julius Caesar, the idea of needing an additional day didn’t gain much ground. Up until that point, the Romans had some sort of a made up lunar model that regularly required adding an additional month. (Imagine that in an election year!) Now, Caesar, who was freshly broken up with Cleopatra and needed a diversion to keep his mind off his broken heart, came up with the “Year of Confusion.” He decreed that 46 B.C. would actually have 445 days to correct the listing ship with one great move. Then, Brother Caesar, ever anxious to have his name on something, developed the “Julian Calendar,” which we all use today. Of note is the fact that apparently, Caesarian Sections are also named after Caesar, who was born in this manner. You never really noticed just by looking at him, but he did tend to leave rooms by the window instead of the door…
There was, however an ever so slight problem with the Julian Calendar. Since the solar year is only .242 longer than the calendar year, and not an even .25, we are actually adding a little too much time to the calendar. This meant that the Julian Calendar would drift off course by one day every 128 years and by the 14th century, it had actually blown off course by 10 days! Enter Pope Gregory XIII.
The “Gregorian Calendar” adds a Leap Year every four years except for years evenly divisible by 100 and not by 400. (Oh this isn’t confusing at all!) For example, the year 1900 was not a Leap Year because it was divisible by 100, but not 400. But the year 2000 was a Leap Year because it is divisible by 400. It was a constant math project!
The Pope’s updated calendar remains in use to this day, but it is still not perfect. The remaining discrepancies will need to be addressed in around 10,000 years. With any luck at all, none of us will be around for what could possibly be another “Year of Confusion.” As if we are not confused enough already!
Another fact about Leap Year is that it is traditionally the year that women can ask men out. Given how things have changed in the last several years, I don’t really think this is a thing anymore. I hear that there are women out there who now ask men out no matter what year it is! Scandalous! Gone are the days of the Sadie Hawkins Days and Dances, in which men would stand shyly at the side while women would bravely saunter over and ask them to dance. Just who was Sadie Hawkins, and why was she so well known as such a brazen hussy? (Do people still say “brazen hussy?”)
Sadie Hawkins was the daughter of Hekzebiah Hawkins, one of Dogpatch’s earliest settlers and the “homeliest gal in all them hills”. She grew frantic waiting for suitors until she reached age 35 and was still a spinster, and her father was worried about her living at home for the rest of her life. In desperation, he called together all the unmarried men of Dogpatch and declared it “Sadie Hawkins Day”. A foot race was decreed with Sadie pursuing the town’s eligible bachelors. She was specifically interested in a handsome boy named Adam who was already in a courtship with Theresa, whose father was the area’s largest potato farmer. Unlike Sadie, Theresa had a number of courtship offers. Matrimony was the consequence of losing the foot race, and the bachelors of the town were literally running for their freedom.
For those who are now totally mystified, Dogpatch was, in fact, the hometown of Lil’ Abner and Daisy Mae of comic strip fame. There was also at least one movie made based on Lil’ Abner which bears watching if you can find it. Oh, those were simpler times!
Anyway, enjoy your Leap Day! Use it wisely. Whose to say you can’t actually use it for a day of partying and festivals? Remember, you won’t get another one for four more years!