Friday, February 29, 2008

Leaping Ahead on February 29, 2008

It's leap year today. For those born on February 29th, it's their birthday. Of course, that supposedly happens only every four years. Or do they celebrate it on March 1st or February 28th during the non-leap years? Good question.

For a woman wanting a certain man, she can ask him to marry her. In many of today's cultures, it is okay for a woman to propose marriage to a man. Society doesn't look down on such women. However, that hasn't always been the case. When the rules of courtship were stricter, women were only allowed to pop the question on one day every four years--February 29th. It is believed this tradition was started in 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. According to legend, St. Patrick said the yearning females could propose on this one day in February during the leap year. According to English law, February 29th was ignored and had no legal status. Folks assumed that traditions would also have no status on that day. It was also reasoned that since the leap year day existed to fix a problem in the calendar, it could also be used to fix an old and unjust custom that only let men propose marriage. The first documentation of this practice dates back to 1288, when Scotland passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to the man of their choice in that year. They also made it law that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves. In the United States, some people have referred to this date as Sadie Hawkins Day with women being given the right to run after unmarried men to propose. Sadie Hawkins was a female character in the Al Capp cartoon strip Li'l Abner. Many communities prefer to celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day in November which is when Al Capp first mentioned Sadie Hawkins Day. Strangly enough, there's a Greek superstition that claims couples have bad luck if they marry during a leap year. Apparently one in five engaged couples in Greece will avoid planning their wedding during a leap year.

This year, for my husband, they didn't take medical and dental out of his paycheck that normally only happens twice a year. This year it will be three times.

What makes Leap Year different for 2008 from 2007? Well, in February there is five Fridays this year and not four. It began on a Friday and is ending on a Friday. Between the years 1904 and 2096, leap years that share the same day of week for each date repeat only every 28 years. The most recent year in which February comprised five Fridays was in 1980, and the next occurrence will be in 2036. February 29th is associated with age-old traditions, superstitions and folklore.

In the Gregorian calendar--the calendar used by most modern countries--there is criteria that determine which years will be leap years. Every year that is divisible by four is a leap year;
of those years, if it can be divided by 100, it is NOT a leap year, unless the year is divisible by 400. That makes it a leap year. That means that years 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500 are NOT leap years, while year 2000 and 2400 are leap years. 2000 was special in that it was the first instance when the third criterion was used in most parts of the world. And the longest time between two leap years is eight years. The last time that occurred was between 1896 and 1904. The next time will be between 2096 and 2104.

In the Julian calendar–introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC and patterned after the Roman calendar–there was only one rule: any year divisible by four would be a leap year. This calendar was used before the Gregorian calendar was adopted.

Why are they needed? To keep our calendar in alignment with the earth's revolutions around the sun.

Vernal equinox means the sun is directly above the Earth's equator, moving from the southern to the northern hemisphere. The mean time between two successive vernal equinoxes is called a tropical year–-also known as a solar year–-and is about 365.2422 days long.

Using a calendar with 365 days every year would result in a loss of 0.2422 days, or almost six hours per year. After 100 years, this calendar would be more than 24 days ahead of the season (tropical year). That's not desirable or accurate. That's why to align the calendar with the seasons we make any difference as insignificant as possible.
Adding a leap year approximately every fourth year, the difference between the calendar and the seasons are reduced significantly, aligning the calendar with the seasons more accurately.

Now, no calendar of today is accurate. they're off by seconds, minutes, hours and days every year. Making a calendar more accurate, new leap year rules would have to be introduced to the Gregorian calendar. This would complicate the calculation of the calendar. It will, however, need some modifications in a few thousand years. The tropical year is approximately 365.242199 days, but it varies year to year, because of the influence of other planets.

An interesting note, February 30th was a real date once. In Sweden and the Soviet Union once upon a time that is. The introduction of this date was temporary though. In Sweden, February 30 resulted from an error with calendar conversion in the 18th century. About two centuries later, the Soviet revolutionary calendar featured February 30 as a result of an attempt to cut seven-day weeks into five-day weeks and to introduce 30-day months for every working month.

How is leap year significant to you? Do you plan to do something different than what you would do any other day? Or is it just another day to you? If it's your birthday, how do you celebrate it on non-leap years?

For me, leap year adds one more day to write. What better way for me to celebrate it!

1 comment:

Meggins said...

I took advantage of the Leap year in 1984 and proposed to my (now) husband. Fortunately, he said yes. (I didn't know about the fine thing.)