Curious Facts About Leap Year

Today is February 29, a date that comes around only once every four years, because of the fact that the Earth takes 365 days, five hours, 45 minutes and 45 seconds to rotate around the sun. So rather than starting the new year every 365 1/4 days, we thrown in an extra day every four years to take care of those extra hours that collect each year. I found a few resources here at the PSC Library to lay out some interesting facts about this day that only comes every four years.

Because traditionally men were the ones pursuing women, Leap Year was a time where it was okay to turn this convention on its head, and women were allowed to ask men to marry them. The men would then have to pay a penalty if they refused. These penalties ranged from a pound in 13th century Scotland to lavish presents like a silk dress or fine gloves. That’s why this day has also been referred to as Ladies’ Day or Bachelors’ Day.

Today is also known as St. Oswald’s Day after the 10th-century archbishop of York, who died on February 29, 992.

Julius Caesar was the first one to start the practice of Leap Year  in 46 B.C. Even then scientists could tell that the Earth’s trip around the sun resulted in an extra quarter-day.

In 1582, Pope Gregory offered another vital tweak to this system. You see, the Earth’s trip around the sun is actually 11 minutes short of being 365 1/4 days long, so by Pope Gregory’s time the calendar was 10 days behind the actual date, so besides eliminating those days from the calendar that year, he also instituted the rule that century years not divisible by 400 will not be Leap Years. That’s why 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not Leap Years, but 2000 was.

Sources:

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, 4th ed. edited by Cherie D. Abbey, 2010.

Marriage Customs of the World: From Henna to Honeymoons by George P. Monger, 2004.

“Twenty Niner Time.” US News & World Report. February 5, 1996 (retrieved through Academic Search Complete).

“Fixing the Calendar” Discover. Febrauary 2000 (retrieved through Academic Search Complete).

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