Leap Year

Welcome to the month of February; a month which contains a rare phenomenon called a “leap day” that only occurs during a leap year. A leap year is a year which has 366 days, instead of the conventional 365 days, and occurs every four years. During a leap year, the month of February includes an extra day as a corrective measure since the Earth does not orbit around the Sun in precisely 365 days. The actual length of a year is 365.2422 days. If we did not have leap years, the seasons would shift about a quarter of a day every year. After 100 years, the seasons would be off by 25 days. So, the extra day adjusts this shift. Due to this, leap days are also known as “intercalary days”. In more scientific terms, a leap year is a year containing an additional day to keep the calendar synchronised with the solar, astronomical or seasonal year as seasons and astronomical events are not constant. 

The name “leap” year is given because in two consecutive 365-day years, a calendar date which falls on a Wednesday in the previous year falls on a Thursday the following year. The extra day in a leap year causes calendar dates to move ahead by two days rather than just one. For instance, 2011’s Christmas fell on a Sunday, but the Christmas of 2012 took place on a Tuesday, not a Monday. It is that ‘leaping over’ of a day that gives its name.

Surprisingly, the Egyptians were the first to come up with the idea of adding a leap day once every four years to keep the calendar in synch with the solar year. Later on, Julius Caesar adopted this solution and later became the first to call February 29th a leap day. Did you know calculations can be made to determine a leap year? According to algorithms, a year is a leap year if it is only divisible by 4, but century years such as 1600 are not leap years unless they are divisible by 400 so the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years but 2000 was.  

According to leap year folklore, a “leapling” or “leaper” is a person born on a leap day. Many believe that this is a sign of good luck. In some cultures, it is considered bad luck to marry during a leap year. Nevertheless, there is no substantial evidence to prove this theory. However, there were numerous tragic events that occurred on a leap day such as Rome burning to ashes, Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and the sinking of Titanic in 1912. Ages ago, Leap Day was known as Ladies’ Day, as it was the one day when women were given the freedom to propose to men. If a man refused the proposal, he would be fined a kiss, a silk dress or twelve pairs of glove. 

As an old saying goes, “Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year”.


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