Taking the Leap

(Originally posted February 29, 2012)

As the tale is told, February 29, is the one-day of the year when it is acceptable for a women to ask a men for his hand in marriage.  The tradition is believed to have started in fifth century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for a man to propose marriage. It goes on to say that St. Patrick decided that females could make a marriage proposal this one-day in February during the Leap Year. It was ignored in English law and had no legal status; therefore, it was assumed that all traditions would also have no status on that particular day -- it was a day to be “out of the ordinary.”

So, where does the "leap" come in? In a normal sequence of years, a calendar date that falls on, a Monday one year will fall on Tuesday the next, Wednesday the year after that, Thursday the year after that, and so on. But every fourth year, thanks to the extra day in February, we "leap" over the expected day of the week — Friday, in this case — and that same calendar date lands on Saturday instead.

The date pops up every four years when February, the shortest month of the year, gains an extra day. The earth turns 365 and ¼ times every year; in order to keep the seasons and calendar in alignment, we have one extra day added on every four years. The length of the solar year, however, is slightly less than 365¼ days by about 11 minutes. To compensate for this discrepancy, the leap year is omitted three times every four hundred years. In other words, a century year cannot be a leap year unless it is divisible by 400. Thus 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, but 1600, 2000, and 2400 are leap years.

If you’re born on Leap Year, on which day does one celebrate, the day before, the day after or both? There are approximately 5 million Leap Year babies living in the world at any given time called "leaplings" or "leapers."  No designated rule tells the leapling when to celebrate, however most US states only recognize March 1 as their official birthday. Those who choose to celebrate February 28 are called “Strict Februarian” as they keep their celebration in their birthday month. Famous Leap Year babies include: Ja Rule, Anthonio Sabato Jr. and Tony Robbins.

Ironically, the fact that the whole point of adding an extra day to February every four years was to align the human measurement of time more closely with nature, in days gone by folks apparently believed that toying with the calendar might actually throw nature out of whack, even hampering the raising of crops and livestock. For example, beans and peas planted during a leap year are said to "grow the wrong way."

In the words of the Scots, "Leap year was never a good sheep year," but in truth the day is what you make of it.  However it is that you choose to celebrate, find the Genuine Joy in this “special day” and remember that it won’t happen again for another 1461 days!