Chamblee54

February 29

Posted in Uncategorized by chamblee54 on February 29, 2012








Today is February 29. It is the extra day added for leap year. People wonder how this tradition got started. It is a feature of the Julian and Gregorian calenders. A vintage website, written by a 1968 leap baby, tells this tale:

“The Romans originally had a 355-day calendar. To keep up with the seasons, an extra 22 or 23-day month was inserted every second year. For reasons unknown, this extra month was only observed now and then. By Julius Caesar’s time, the seasons no longer occurred at the same calendar periods as history had shown. To correct this, Caesar eliminated the extra month and added one or two extra days to the end of various months (his month included, which was Quintilis, later renamed Julius we know it as July). This extended the calendar to 365 days. Also intended was an extra calendar day every fourth year (following the 28th day of Februarius). However, after Caesar’s death in 44 B.C., the calendars were written with an extra day every 3 years instead of every 4 until corrected in 8 A.D. So again, the calendar drifted away from the seasons. By 1582, Pope Gregory XIII recognized that Easter would eventually become closer and closer to Christmas. The calendar was reformed so that a leap day would occur in any year that is divisible by 4 but not divisible by 100 except when the year is divisible by 400.

Thus 1600 and 2000, although century marks, have a Leap Day. The calendar we use today, known as the Gregorian calendar, makes our year 365.2425 days only off from our solar year by .00031, which amounts to only one day’s error after 4,000 years”.

Starting in 8 a.d., an extra day was added to the year. However, this wasn’t working, and changes needed to be made. Pope Gregory XIII changed the calender to drop the leap year on years ending in 100, except for years divisible by 400. 1900 did not have a leap year, but 2000 did. (We needed it to make the changes for Y2K.) A British site from the National Maritime Museum has more details.

“The calendar year is 365 days long, unless the year is exactly divisible by four, in which case an extra day is added to February to make the year 366 days long. If the year is the last year of a century, eg. 1800, 1900, 2000, then it is only a leap year if it is exactly divisible by 400. Therefore, 1900 wasn’t a leap year but 2000 was. The reason for these rules is to bring the average length of the calendar year into line with the length of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, so that the seasons always occur during the same months each year.

The year is defined as being the interval between two successive passages of the Sun through the vernal (spring) equinox. Of course, what is really occurring is that the Earth is going around the Sun but it is easier to understand what is happening by considering the apparent motion of the Sun in the sky. The vernal equinox is the instant when the Sun is above the Earth’s equator while going from the south to the north. It is the time which astronomers take as the definition of the beginning of spring. The year as defined above is called the vernal tropical year and it is the year length that defines the repetition of the seasons. The length of the vernal tropical year is 365.24237 days.

In 46 BC Julius Caesar established the Julian calendar which was used in the west until 1582. In the Julian calendar each year contained 12 months and there were an average of 365.25 days in a year. This was achieved by having three years containing 365 days and one year containing 366 days. (In fact the leap years were not correctly inserted until 8 AD).

The discrepancy between the actual length of the year, 365.24237 days, and the adopted length, 365.25 days, may not seem important but over hundreds of years the difference becomes obvious. The reason for this is that the seasons, which depend on the date in the tropical year, were getting progressively out of kilter with the calendar date. Pope Gregory XIII, in 1582, instituted the Gregorian calendar, which has been used since then.

The change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian involved the change of the simple rule for leap-years to the more complex one in which century years should only be leap-years if they were divisible by 400. For example, 1700, 1800 and 1900 are not leap-years whereas 2000 was. The net effect is to make the adopted average length of the year 365.2425 days. The difference between this and the true length will not have a serious effect for many thousands of years. (The error amounts to about 3 days in 10,000 years.)

The adoption of the Gregorian calendar was made in Catholic countries in 1582 with the elimination of 10 days, 4 October being followed by 15 October. The Gregorian calendar also stipulated that the year should start on 1 January. In non-Catholic countries the change was made later; Britain and her colonies made the change in 1752 when 2 September was followed by 14 September and New Year’s Day was changed from 25 March to 1 January 1″.

There are some traditions for February 29. The most notable is the idea of women proposing marriage to men. “According to an old Irish legend, or possibly history, St Bridget struck a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men – and not just the other way around – every 4 years. … In some places, Leap Day has been known as “Bachelors’ Day” for the same reason. A man was expected to pay a penalty, such as a gown or money, if he refused a marriage proposal from a woman on Leap Day. In many European countries, especially in the upper classes of society, tradition dictates that any man who refuses a woman’s proposal on February 29 has to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.” Gentlemen, you have been warned.

Since it happens every four years, there are not that many famous births and deaths on February 29 . Births include Gioachino Rossini(1792), Dinah Shore (1916), Bart Stupak (1952) and Pedro Zamora (1972). Earl Scheib went to the paintshop in the sky on February 29, 1992. In 1940, the academy awards were given out, with Gone With The Wind a big winner. Most of the time, February 29 is just another day.






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