Leap Day

Every four years an extra day gets tacked onto the end of February giving it 29 instead of 28 days. This is to keep the calendar we follow synchronized with the astronomical year. The astronomical year is roughly 365.2425 days long and creating a calendar that follows it as closely as possible has always been a challenge in that Mother Nature refuses to provide anything in neat manageable chunks.

The Gregorian calendar,which is the one most nations use, is a refinement of the older Julian calendar which itself was a reform of yet an earlier calendar. It applies a convoluted formula in order to determine when to apply the needed extra day to ensure the calendar remains accurate. The fact that the Earth’s rotation is very gradually slowing down due to the tidal effects of the Moon. Given the short human lifespan, this slowing down is not something that should greatly concern us as it only matters to the keepers of atomic clocks who like to measure things in milliseconds.

If you were born on February 29th, technically your birthday would be celebrated only every four years, though in reality Leap dayers celebrate their birthdays either February 28th or March 1st. This doesn’t cause any legal issues as apparently this quirk of the calendar has never caused any issues that might attract the attention of law makers. Probably just as well.

There is a tradition of women being able to propose to men on this day, a custom that seems to have originated in the nineteenth century despite claims for a much earlier origin. If the man refuses the proposal, he is apparently obliged to give her money or buy a dress. If a member of the upper class, he has to buy her 12 pairs of gloves, presumably so she can cover her hands to hide the fact she was refused. This last one baffles me as it seems to work under the assumption that people will be too dumb to realize that her failure to show off the ring is a sure fire tip off no marriage is in the works.

There’s really no reason why a woman can’t propose to a man other than cultural convention. The BBC has provided an article showing various women who proposed to the men (or in one case a woman) in their lives. It’s a very quirky and sweet article.

So – Happy February 29th!