Celebrate the spin!

Celebrate
the Spin!

by Raenell Dawn

"When is Leap Year?"

"Do you even get a birthday?"

"When do you celebrate then?"

"What does it have to do with me?"

 

These are just a few of the questions I have heard over the years, and I want to take this opportunity to clear up any confusion (and misguided angst) some of you may have about Leap Year Day.

The best place to start is with a brief history - Every four years we have a Leap Year, which means we have a year with 366 days rather than the typical 365. That extra day is always February 29.

This change in the calendar was created to maintain a balance with the natural cycle of the universe. A 365-day year is actually a bit shy of the natural course of a year, with its four seasons.

If we did not have an extra day every fourth year, eventually those of us in the Northern hemisphere, would be celebrating Christmas in 90 degree weather and wearing parkas during our summer vacation months. It wouldn’t stay that way though. Every four years, the seasons would start a day later.

While a little variety may sound nice, we humans are creatures of habit. We want the seasons to start on the same day every year in order to plant and harvest on a predictable basis, and to ensure that our holidays occur in their traditional season.

Leap Day is about time.

In ancient times, a month was considered a month by calculating the intervals from new moon to new moon. It was called a synodic month, or lunar month. With that method, a month was 29.53 days.

A solar year - the length of time required for the Earth to revolve around the sun - is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and about 45 seconds. The lunar months were not equal to the solar year, so the weather conditions during a given month would slowly change over the years.

For example, think about the kind of weather you had in your hometown September 1. If not for Leap Day, 50 years from now you would have the kind of weather you'd expect in mid-October on September 1. In many places on earth that is a significant difference.

The addition of a Leap Year Day was an idea conceived by Emperor Julius Caesar, who recognized the need for a stable, predictable calendar. With the help of an astronomer named Susigenes, Caesar figured out that, first of all, one year with 445 days was needed. He thought that would compensate for past irregularities. That long year was 46 B.C.

 

The calendar is altered every four years with the addition of February 29.

The system of three 365-day years followed by one 366-day Leap Year began in 47 B.C. The extra day was added to the last month of the year, which at that time was February.

Although Caesar was on the right track, the passing of several centuries revealed that his system wasn’t going to work. It created three Leap Years too many every 385 years. The months and seasons were not matching up as planned.

Certain religious leaders were concerned because some of their holidays are associated with seasons. The development of a stable calendar was necessary because, for example, the spring equinox determines the date of Easter.

Fifteen centuries after Caesar and Susigenes first got the ball rolling, Pope Gregory XIII and astronomer Christopher Clavius revised the plan and developed the Gregorian calendar, which we still use today.

They kicked it off by eliminating 11 days. In the year 1582, October 4 was immediately followed by October 15. Additionally, December became the last month of the year.

 

Leap Day is about time.

Finally, in order to eliminate the extra 3 Leap Years occurring, century years (ending in 00) must be divisible by 400 to be designated a Leap Year. So 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not Leap Years, but the years 1600 and 2000 were.

February 29 is not officially named Leap Day. Because of this, dictionaries do not capitalize the words Leap Year Day or Leap Day. In addition to that, calendar companies do not recognize it as a day of importance by putting the words Leap Year Day in print on February 29. It's a day that celebrates the calendar, and yet, most calendar companies miss that point.

With that extra day performing such a balancing act for the sake of the calendar I had hoped calendar companies would include the words LEAP YEAR DAY on on February 29, 2008, but alas, the majority did not. My hope continues to 2012.

 

That extra day, February 29, has a valid reason for being there, and it has a name: Leap Year Day. It was put in place for one reason only. It's a little day with a lot of responsibility. Leap Year Day does not receive the recognition it deserves. February 29 must be officially named Leap Year Day so the calendar companies will recognize it and put it in print!

Along with adding the words Leap Year Day on the calendar, there needs to be a corrected, updated listing for it in all dictionaries.

Leap Year Day is not a holiday. It is Leap Year Day. It doesn't need to be a holiday really. But if that's what it takes to get it the recognition it deserves, so be it.

Yes, I was born on Leap Year Day. I have been accused, by the media, of doing this for my sake. They have even gone as far as suggesting I am doing this as my form of therapy because, as they put it, I don't *get a birthday*. Clearly they do not understand, which is why I continue to promote Leap Year Day Awareness.

It's not about me. It's about Leap Year Day, February 29. And it's about time.

Celebrate the spin of the earth.

It's about time!

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