Liz Lemon: “I’m about to do something crazy.”
Her boyfriend Chris: “You should! Real life is for March.”
–From the “Leap Day” episode of 30 Rock
I have always been fascinated with Leap Day. It’s like a day that doesn’t exist, but does.
As a child I imagined that it would be quite cool to have my birthday on Leap Day (except for the whole only getting presents every four years thing of course…) and have always wanted to know more about it. So how fortuitous that I should be signed up to post a blog entry today. It gave me an excuse to learn a little bit more about this mysterious, and somewhat illusive, day.
Julius Caesar introduced the concept of the leap year (also called an intercalary or bissextile year) in the Roman empire over 2000 years ago to compensate for the fact that it takes the Earth a wee bit more than 365 days to make its way around the sun (approximately 365.242199 days or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds). If we didn’t add this extra day on February 29 nearly every 4 years, we would lose almost six hours off our calendar every year. After only one hundred years, this would put our calendar off by approximately 24 days – almost one whole month!
In Caesar’s time, there was only one rule: any year evenly divisible by 4 would be a leap year. Since then, things have gotten a bit more complex. By today’s standards a year is a leap year IF it is evenly divisible by four, BUT NOT if it can be evenly divided by 100, UNLESS it can be evenly divided by 400. This means that 2000 was a leap year and 2400 will be a leap year, but 1800 and 1900 were not, nor will 2100, 2200, 2300 or 2500 be leap years.
According to some ancient myths, this anomaly in the calendar allows women to take the – ahem – bull by the horns and propose marriage to a man on this “extra”ordinary day. If by chance he says no, he must give her either a silk gown and a kiss or twelve pairs of gloves (presumably to hide the fact, for the entire year following his refusal, that she does not have a ring).
People born on this day (often called “leaplings”) have the choice of celebrating their special day on February 28th or March 1st (on non-leap years) or only once every four years (this could start to come in really handy 8 to 10 leap years in…), although governments tend to be very specific about which day “counts” as far as reaching the age of majority. In England and Wales, the legal birthday of a leapling is March 1; in Taiwan and New Zealand, it is February 28th. Local laws determine the legal birthday in the United States and some people even have the “wrong” birth date (February 28th or March 1st) on their driver’s license!
Some famous “leaplings” born on this day are: Dinah Shore, American Singer and Songwriter (1916); Tony Robbins, American motivational speaker (1960); Antonio Sabàto Jr, Italian-born actor (1972); Ja Rule, American rapper and actor (1976); and Chris Conley, American musician and songwriter/composer (1980).
Notable events that have happened on a leap day include: Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s removal as President of Haiti, following a coup (2004); South African archbishop Desmond Tutu’s arrest during an anti-apartheid demonstration in Cape Town (1988); Hank Aaron becoming the first player in Major League history to sign a $200,000 contract (1972); comic strip Family Circus making its debut (1960) and in 1940 Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind.
So go out and make history today. Do something crazy. You should! Real life is for March.
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