Once every four years, a day is added to the regular calendar, and the year sums up to 366 days instead of 365 days. And so the mystery on what is Leap Year, and how it came to be, haunts us each Leap Year day. What does it mean? Thanks to some math and research, we have found the answer.
What is a leap year?
Simply put, our calendar is equivalent to a solar year, which means that it takes approximately 365.25 days for Earth to orbit the Sun. To keep the numbers tidy, the calculation is rounded to 365 days. Still, the .25 is significant and cannot be ignored, since science should be precise. Hence, to add that “extra” time that wasn’t accounted for, a day, February 29, is added, to the regular calendar year, every four years.
Why is it important?
That extra day makes up for what technically would be a three-year daily deduction of six hours. Essentially, if it weren’t for adding that one day every four years, our “lost” hours would pile up, year by year until our calendar would be incoherent. As NASA puts it, we would be celebrating the 4th of July in Winter. Now, that is the scientific and natural answer to Leap Year’s importance, but now, Leap Year signifies political and social events, such as the Olympics and the US elections, as well.
The first leap year, 46BC and the last calendar
Stemming from ancient Chinese, Hebrew, and other lunar calendars, Roman dictator Julius Caesar during his time in Egypt, deemed the Egyptian solar calendar as more consistent and effective. The Egyptians would intercalate a month by the patterns of the stars that astronomers observed. From there, Caesar and the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria decided to replace the inconsistency of lunar calendar and the observation of the stars, with the addition of a day, every four years. History Channel explains that Caesar added, to reorganize the calendar properly, two months to the year 46 BC.
The Julian calendar is closer to what we today practice, but it was still missing a few tweaks. As the Romans conquered and shaped Europe, the calendar propagated and was situated as a common and respected truth. Yet, by the 16th century, with new technologies and knowledge, the solar year was proven to be overestimated by 11 minutes. Much less than the leap months the Romans followed, but still a problem in the long run. The force that pushed for an official change was directed by the Catholic Church, who noticed that easter was misplaced for approximately ten days.
According to History Channel, Pope Gregory XIII commissioned a modified calendar, one that kept the Leap Day but removed it on centurial (100) years not divisible by 400 the example offered by the site highlights that 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not Leap Years, but 2000 was. Hence, the Gregorian calendar was officiated in the year 1582 and is still the Western calendar followed today.
What happens on a Leap Year?
Besides an extra day in February, Leap Year has inspired many legends and superstitions. As well as, traditions. In Ireland, it is said that in the fifth-century St. Bridget spoke to St. Patrick about the injustice surrounding the habit that women could not propose marriage to men, and as a solution, St. Patrick, established that on February 29th it would be permissible. Then in England, the myth was believed and added on to with a stylish spin. If the woman was turned down, the man had to buy her several pairs of elegant gloves. Today in Rome, getting married on a Leap Day is considered to bring bad luck.
Today, the feeling or observance of Leap Year and its day generates excitement, confusion, and curiosity. Author Vera Nazarian puts it nicely in her book when she pens, ” Today is an ephemeral ghost… A strange amazing day that comes only once every four years. For the rest of the time it does not “exist.”In mundane terms, it marks a “leap” in time, when the calendar is adjusted to make up for extra seconds accumulated over the preceding three years due to the rotation of the earth. A day of temporal tune up!”
She then continues to relate, “But this day holds another secret—it contains one of those truly rare moments of delightful transience and light uncertainty that only exist on the razor edge of things, along a buzzing plane of quantum probability… A day of unlocked potential. Will you or won’t you? Should you or shouldn’t you? Use this day to do something daring, extraordinary and unlike yourself. Take a chance and shape a different pattern in your personal cloud of probability!” (Nazarian, 2010)
Other things we celebrate every four years.
Leaplings’-those born on Leap Day-birthdays! Studies have shown that there are currently around five million people who are born on, Leap Day, February 29. That equals 1 out of 1,461. That means they technically only have birthdays every four years, settling for February the 28th or the first of March to celebrate every other three years.
The Olympics is an international sporting event that originated in Olympia, Greece, to showcase the greatest warriors and athletes of Ancient Greece in honor of Zeus. It occurred every four years, between August and September, and became a measurement tool of time for the greeks. The oldest dated record of the Olympics is 776 B.C. As presented by History Channel, “the first modern Olympics took place in 1896 in Athens, and featured 280 participants from 13 nations, competing in 43 events.” Modernly, the Olympic serves as a watering ground, like in Lion King; a space and time of peace and unity. For the sake of tradition, we still celebrate it every four years.
The US Presidential Election is also held every four years, for around 200 years now. It is that way because, upon redacting the US constitution, the founding fathers deemed democratic and responsible a term of four years for a change in leadership or renewal of power. The four-year term is found in Article II Section I of the Constitution.