Leap Day 29th February 2012| 365 and quarter days.

A rare leap day in 2012

Leap Day and Leap YearsLeap Day February 29th

To modern mankind, leap days and leap years make sense.  Unlike our ancient ancestors, we realise that there are 365 and a quarter days in a year. Thus we get used to the idea that ever four years there will be an extra day called the 29th of February. A year is the time it takes the earth to orbit the sun.  Moreover, a year brings with it the concepts of repeating seasons and fluctuating day length.  Indeed, it was not that long ago when wise men thought that sun orbited the earth, even worse those who believed the earth was spherical and not flat would have been confined to a lunatic asylum. Back to the problem of that leap day the 29th of Feburary.  The day is the time it takes the earth to rotate on it's own axis, it is such a wonderful and logical measurement of time that we don't want to mess with it.  It makes no sense to make one day equal to 24 hrs and one minute, just to match with the 365 1/4 days it takes to orbit the sun. If such a stupid idea ever gained acceptance it would mean that every two years 'Midnight' 0:00 would be at high noon.  Yet if every day was precisely 24:00:00 and there were no leap years we get a new form of madness, January the 1st would eventually occur at the spring equinox. Early attempts by Romans to fix leap years every four years worked well enough during their life time, but eventually the calendar suffered from the fact that the award of leap years was based on imprecise calculation. The fundamental problem is that the earth does not orbit the the sun in an exact number of day, instead the period is 365.24219 days.  The point is that if you have a leap year every 4 years eventually you will observe an error. In itself, the error of 1 day in 138 years seems insignificant, but after 1,500 years Pope Gregory decided it was time to do something about the accumulated 11 day anomaly.

Leap Year and Leap Day Origins and Customs

A tradition was introduced many centuries ago to allow women to propose to men during a leap year. This privilege of proposing was restricted to leap day in some regions. Leap day was sometimes known as "Bachelors' Day". Interestingly, Will and Guy have found that a man was expected to pay a penalty, such as buy a dress or givemoney, if he refused a marriage offer from a woman on this day - so men beware! The tradition's origin appears to have stemmed from an old Irish tale referring to St Bridget striking a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men every four years. This old custom was probably made to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how the leap day balances the calendar. It was also considered to be unlucky for someone to be born on a leap day in Scotland and for couples to marry on a leap year, including on a leap day, particularly, we have been told, in Greece.

Origins of the Leap Year Proposal

Further research reveals that the right of every women to propose on 29th February each leap year, goes back many hundreds of years to when the leap year day had no recognition in English law [the day was "lept over" and ignored, hence the term "leap year"]. It was considered, therefore, that as the day had no legal status, it was reasonable to assume that traditions also had no status. Consequently, women who were concerned about being "left on the shelf" took advantage of this anomaly and proposed to the man they wished to marry. It was also thought that since the leap year day corrected the discrepancy between the calendar year of 365 days and the time taken for the Earth to complete one orbit of the sun (365 days and 6 hours), it was an opportunity for women to correct a tradition that was one-sided and unjust.

Middle-ages Correction of the 11 'Lost' Days

Then when a correction is made to the calendar after centuries of ignoring the leap day, people become upset.  This actually happened in the 16th century when governments switched from the old Julian calendar to the modern Gregorian calendar with it's leap days every 4 years.  To make the correction, the governments had to 'lose' 11 days. See the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Footnote: Please send us your amusing tales about leap day and leap year.

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