Jump for Joy – It’s a Leap Year!

Catharine L. Kaufman
Catharine L. Kaufman

This February has 29 days, a phenomenon that occurs every four years with some quirky exceptions. Called a bissextile or Leap Year, swelling the calendar to 366 days, it means different things to different folks.  For most of us it is trivial, we have to cook an extra three meals a year, it delays the arrival of summer by one day, and we have to go to work (or school) for an additional day.

For 187,000 Americans and 4-million others worldwide who were actually born on Leap Day (Feb. 29), that’s another matter.

According to astrologers, Leaplings are Pisces endowed with exceptional talents and personalities that reflect their special calendary status, such as opera composer Gioacchino Rossini, singer Dinah Shore, bandleader Jimmy Dorsey and rapper Ja Rule.

A friend born on Feb. 29, 1964 has been lording it over me for years that she’ll be celebrating her 12th birthday although she is actually turning 48. Her lucky family only has to buy her a cake and presents once every four years. But growing up must’ve been traumatic for my Leapling friend, whose real calendar birth date vanished for three consecutive years, reappearing every fourth. That’s why many moms who give birth shortly after midnight on Leap Day beg their OBGYNs to re-jigger the time of birth, pushing it back to Feb. 28 so their kids won’t be short-changed. The real burning question is: How many candles do you put on a Leapling’s cake?

How’d it come to this?

The ancient Roman calendar gremlins tinkered around with the days and months to harmonize the universe with the planets. Back in the day of Numa Pompilius in 700 B.C., the skinny calendar had only 10 months until February, the month of purification, was added to the end of the year. Later, February was sandwiched between January and March. But it was mighty Julius Caesar and his astronomer, Sosigenes who lay solid claim to creating Leap Year. Julius randomly added days to assorted months (making July, the month named after himself a hefty 31 days long) so the Romans could consistently celebrate festivals the same season each successive year. In 45 B.C. he fattened the calendar to 365 days, and every fourth year following the 28th day of Februarius, added an extra day making it a Leap Year. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII further tweaked the calendar so that leap day would occur only in years divisible by 4 – giving the Leap Year a powder three times every 400 years. Go figure. So now our Gregorian calendar represents balance and harmony between the seasons and our method of timekeeping.

Throughout history, Feb. 29 has been designated as the day for romantic equality. Women were given the green light to propose to men in marriage.

Legend has it that in 5th Century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about fair ladies having to patiently wait for men to pop the question, he did the saintly deed and slotted Feb. 29 as a day when it was proper for women to propose.

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