The Leap Year is Here

leap.jpgAre you a Leapean? That is to ask, were you born on the 29 of February? Has your transition to manhood still not translated into enough guts to propose to your loved one? (Political correctness demands that I refrain from limiting your scope of romance to any particular gender. Ahem…) If your response to any of the queries above is a ‘yes’, then I suggest you to read on.

February 29 is a day known for its peculiar inclusion to our calendar every four years. God forbid, if it falls on a weekday for that means another day of extended, nerve wrecking drudgery. After all, not unlike the white man’s responsibility to other ‘lesser’ races (as propagated by a certain Mr. Kipling), it is a young kid’s burden to please his\her (remember…political correctness) parents by dutifully going to school or college.

Anyway, attempts at humour aside, I feel compelled to inform that we have a Februray 29 in the first place because contrary to what most of you budding geniuses out there thought, the earth’s rotation around the sun is a little more than 365 days (a quarter of a day more approx.). Hence, we add a day to February every four years to align the clock on earth with the solar clock.

I know this fact will be met with skepticism but don’t be fooled. There is more to it than meets the eye. It is not just quite as easy as counting every four years and adding a day to the month of February. The calendar that most of us follow (the Gregorian calendar) has 365 days in a year. But, the actual time that the earth takes to revolve around the sun is about 365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes. This basically means that it is actually 11 minutes less than the 6 hours which we adjust every four years. Hence, we have to account for these 11 minutes that are added to the clock every leap year. What is generally done to compensate for this extra time is that three leap days are removed from the calendar every 400 years. The math is simple. What it means is that just counting four years to every leap year does not make it a leap year. Every centenary year in the calendar (2000, 2100…… and so on) is a leap year only if it is divisible by 400. Now, this calendar ensures that the deviation of the earth year from the solar year is just by .00031 of a second. Yes, this is an extremely small fraction of a second. This amounts to only one day’s error after 4,000 years.

Next, lets take a look at who introduced these changes in the calendar. It was none other than Julius Caesar. The Romans, who had a 355 days in a year calendar, soon recognized the flaw in it. Over time, they devised various ways of aligning their calendar with the solar clock. Some of their innovations were adding a whole new month to their calendar every few years, or like in Julius Caesar’s time, adding a day or two to each month of the existing calendar. He also ordered the addition of an extra day every four years. As can be seen, their calendar was closer to ours. However, after his assassination (remember Shakespeare’s “Et tu Brutus?” ), this practice was discontinued. By 1582, Pope Gregory XIII realized that because of the discrepancies in the calendar, Easter was edging closer to Christmas every year. Hence, he demanded a change in the calendar. He ordered that ten days be dropped to bring the calendar back into synchronization with the seasons. Furthermore, to ensure that no future anomalies occur, he also introduced the rule regarding the centenary years that I had just mentioned before.

However, currently this particular date just means an extra day at work! However, this date also has some quaint history and traditions associated with it. Did you know that in English and Scottish tradition, the leap day was the only day that a woman could propose to a man? This seems laughable now, but the rules of courtship were very rigid earlier. Since the English law gave no legal status to February 29, women would see this as the perfect opportunity to break from tradition and propose to the man of their choice rather than waiting for that gutless man to do the same.

In Scotland, this break from tradition actually got legal status in 1288, when Scotland passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage during a leap year. The law further decreed that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine. The fine could be a kiss or payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves. Possibilities ladies, possibilities…

Leap year provides choice of endless possibilities and excitement. As for me, February 29 will be just another day to test my patience in college. Sigh.

Rishabh Agnihotri

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