Look Before You Leap Year


2016 is a Leap Year, which means we get an extra day in February!  For inquiring minds, this brings up a whole host of questions that I will address here:

Why do we have Leap Years?  Our 365 day year is shorter than the 365.2422 day solar year.  A solar year is the time between two vernal equinoxes.  Vernal equinox takes place when the sun is directly over the Earth's equator.  To make up for this .2422 day difference, we add an extra day (a "Leap Day") to the calendar in certain years.

Which years are considered Leap Years?  Most of us think Leap Years happen every 4 years.  But there's more to it.  In the Gregorian calendar unveiled by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 A.D. that we use today, a Leap Year is any year divisible by 4; however, if the year is divisible by 100, it is not a Leap Year; but, if the year is divisible by 400, it IS a Leap Year.  So year 2100 will NOT be a Leap Year (not that I'll care at age 136), while 2000 indeed was a Leap Year.

Leap Year rules were simpler during the 16 centuries that Julius Caesar's Julian calendar was used (beginning 45 BC).  The rule was to add a Leap Day every 4 years.  Problem was, this did not match the vernal equinox cycle with enough precision.

Why is it called a Leap Year?  One theory is that a normal year is 52 weeks + 1 day.  Thus, each "normal" year your birthday moves out by one day (e.g. from Tuesday one year to Wednesday the next).  In Leap Years, your birthday "leaps" over to the next day of the week (e.g. from Tuesday to Thursday) after Leap Day.  Tell me if you have a better answer.

Why are Leap Days added to February?  It is the result of Roman custom pre-dating Caesar, when technically what took place was that they repeated the 24th day of February and called it one day.  Perhaps they chose February because it is the shortest month of the year.  And perhaps February is the shortest month of the year because up until 4 centuries prior to launch of the Julian calendar in 45 BC, February had been the last month of the Roman calendar.  But today we just add an extra day to February and call it a day (so to speak).

What would happen if we didn't have Leap Years?  If in 1582 the Gregorian calendar eliminated Leap Years, today (late February) we would be in May and Spring would not be here until July.  So without Leap Years we would gradually see seasons pushed back later and later in the year.  We'd have to reschedule our vacation plans!

Who was born on a Leap Day?  Motivational speaker Anthony Robbins has the distinct honor of being born on Leap Day in 1960.  He shares that honor with American serial killer Richard Ramirez. 

When do Leap Day babies celebrate their birthdays?  Some on 2/28 and others on 3/1.  Some only celebrate every 4 years.  Visit the Honor Society of Leap Year Babies website for more information as I know this is such the hot topic.

What is an alternative to Leap Years?  I have a novel solution.  How about if we eliminate Leap Years and change to a 365 day, 5 hour, 49 minute year?  Every February would be 28.2422 days and would include a partial, Fragment Day of 5 hours, 49 minutes.  Wouldn't that be great!?  It would eliminate the need for Leap Years and Fragment Day babies could celebrate their birth every year along with the rest of us!! 

Hmmm, but I guess that would cause problems, wouldn't it.  March 1st would have to start at 5:49 a.m. instead of midnight.  All right, nix that idea.  Maybe Leap Years aren't so bad after all!