Sunday, February 26, 2012

Leap Year

Every four years, 2012 being one of these, we have a Presidential election in the United States, the Summer Olympic Games are held, and it is Leap Year.  I am not sure exactly when I understood what a Leap Year was but I am guessing it had to be 1960 or 1964.  From when I first understood it, Leap Year both fascinated and confused me.
When I was a mere lad, I wanted everything to be ordered and had a bit of a tough time understanding when it wasn’t.  It was not a huge deal, but I wanted more order than there was in the physical and natural world.  Many of these area were also man made.  Not having much choice and say in the matter, I did cope and adapt.  
The calender certainly was one of these areas.  Why twenty four hours in a day?  Why does the next day start at midnight?  Shouldn’t a day start at dawn?  Why did we have twelve months?  Why weren’t there ten?  Why did the months have different number of days?  Who invented that and why?  And the biggest question of them all was what is with this thing called Leap Year?  We add an extra day to the calendar every four years?  Why?
Well it seems that the earth takes a bit more than 365 days to revolve around the sun.  It actually takes 365.2422 days.  Why?  I guess, the answer is that it just does.  God created Heaven and earth.  It took him seven days to do so.  God gave us 10 fingers and miraculously we operate in a base 10 mathematical world.  When shouldn’t the heavens operate the same way.  Why didn’t He take his time and  make the week 10 days and a year be 100 or 1,000 days with no decimal places?  That would have been neat and orderly.  It would have somehow appealed to me more back in 1960 or 1964.  Why 365 days?  Even more so, why 365.2422 days.
It just is what it is..  I am more accepting of that today on This Side of Fifty then way back then.
Because of this .2422 days, Julius Caesar added an extra day every four years back when he ruled enough of the world to make such decision and have such decisions stick.  It was such a big deal and he was such a powerful emperor that they called his new calendar the Julian Calendar.  Doing this every four years did not quite solve the problem especially when they did it every three years (due to over exuberance?) for the first 100 or so years.  Really?  I suppose this all makes sense as they were using those confusing Roman Numerals exclusively back then.  This every three year Leap Year added an extra day every 128 years.  I suppose this was harder to detect without televison, the internet, factoring in the Fall of the Roman Empire, and perhaps the fact that most people did not live that many years.
It took 1500 years to fix this issue.
In February of 1582, Pope Gregory XII created or commissioned the creation of the calendar most of the world uses today.  
The Gregorian calendar was first adopted in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain in 1582. The Gregorian reform consisted of the following changes:
  • 10 days were dropped in October 1582.
  • New rules were set to determine the date of Easter.
  • The rule for calculating Leap Years was changed to include that a year is a Leap Year if:

Gee, that clears it all up.  Kinda.  
When, as a boy, this concept of Leap Year settled in, I was fascinated by the idea of February 29th.  It only comes around once every four years.  The huge question that came into my mind was what if February 29th was your birthday?  In the non-Leap Years, would one celebrate their birthday on February 28th or March 1st?  Even more important to the younger me was how someone born on Leap Year would count their age.  Did they count calendar years and say they were 12 or would they say they were 3?  I would certainly divide my age by four just to mess with folks.  I assumed the former but both made sense.  I wished I had known someone born on Leap Year but I never have.
Who is actually born on Leap Year?  A quick Internet search showed a small list of notable people:
  • Pope Paul II - 1498
  • Gioacchino Rossini - 1792 - the composer of operas
  • Moraji Desai - 1898 - prime minister of India
  • Dinah Shore - 1916
  • Carlos Humberto Romero - 1924 - President of El Salvador
  • Tony Robbins - 1960 - a motivational speaker
The Henriksen Family in Norway claims the record of most children born on Leap Year.  Karin Henriksen gave birth on three successive Leap Years.   Her daughter Heidi was born in 1960.  She gave to her son Olav in 1964 and Leif-Martin in 1968.  This is an amazing statistic.  The Henriksens have the record as far as I am concerned.
The only major historical event I could find that happened on a Leap Year was in 1940 when Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award for Gone with the Wind.  She was the first African American to be so honored.
I read on Wikipedia that such folks are referred to as either "Leapers" or "Leaplings."  I have never heard anyone called this.  I would prefer Leapling over Leaper for sure.  Leaper is just too close to leper.
All this aside, this February 29th will probably be a routine day for most people.  There will bits on the news but mostly people will simply go about their business.  I am sure will be some youngsters, however, trying to make sense of this concept of an extra day.
Happy Leap Year er... Leap Day to one and all.

No comments:

Post a Comment