What’s the big deal about Leap Day?February 29, 2012
Has anyone said Happy Leap Day to you yet? Don’t worry, it’s still early! But don’t wait too long…Once the day is over, you won’t get to say Happy Leap Day for another four years…or so.
We’re used to months having a 29th day so you might not realize the significance of February 29th. It’s a day that only happens in a ‘leap year’. A leap year is a calendar year in which an extra day is added at the end of February. Why? Well, it’s an issue of mathematics.
There are 365 days in a year, right? Wrong. Don’t start Googling just yet. There are, essentially, 365 days in a year, but that’s because we round to the nearest hundred. In reality, there are 365.2422 days in a year, the time it takes for the Earth to make a full rotation around the sun. This fact birthed the concept of the leap year, which can be traced back to 46 BC when Julius Caesar commissioned the creation of the Julian calendar. We don’t use the Julian calendar anymore (most countries replaced it with the Gregorian calendar way back in the 16 and 1700s) because it added a leap day every three years. In 1582, it was nearly 134 days out of alignment and Pope Gregory XIII advocated the Gregorian calendar in order to keep Easter in line with the March equinox. That is why we have leap years, to keep our holidays and seasons properly aligned with our calendar. If we didn’t have this, our days would continue to move forward, and we’d be celebrating Thanksgiving in April.
That’s also why not every fourth year is a leap year. Doing so consistently would create the same problem the Julian calendar did. In general, leap years happen every year that can be divided by four…generally. The exception is that the rule doesn’t apply for years that are multiples of 400. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a matter of mathematics.
Some scientists think the calendar system can be simplified and the need for leap years could be eliminated. Richard Conn Henry and Steve Hanke, both professors at John Hopkins University, presented their idea for a new calendar that would keep each date on the same day of every month. The proposed system would make our years only 364 days long and add an extra week to December approximately every six years. An extra holiday week sounds pretty cool, until you consider the fact that your gift shopping would be complicated by no longer being able to gift those clever little desk calendars.
We also want to say Happy Birthday to everyone who was born on February 29th. Their day only comes around once in a while, so we hope they have a great time celebrating. Happy Leap Day!
Sources: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/leap-day-today-feb-29-answer-timely-questions-article-1.1030304?localLinksEnabled=false http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_calendar#From_Julian_to_Gregorian
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