Since the calendar blesses us with an extra day this year, the question presents itself: What should we do with it? The fact that our extra day falls on a Saturday is icing on the cake.
If you paid attention in high school, you’ll recall that this extra day every fourth year allows the calendar to align itself more closely to the actual length of time it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun. It’s not exactly 365 days; that would be too simple. Instead, it’s about six hours longer, so this is the way calendar makers have decided to keep things accurate long-term.
There are consequences. February 29 delays “Super Tuesday” primary elections in Texas and 13 other states who vote next week. Yikes! We now have an additional day to decide who we want to support. And candidates are eager to help us decide, as shown by their repetitive commercials and mail-outs.
It’s nothing new. Primary elections leading up to presidential elections have followed leap days for years.
Those with major red-letter days on February 29 have reason to rejoice. Whether it’s their birthday, anniversary, or something else, it’s time to celebrate.
Birthdays are especially unique.
It’s the one year out of four when “leapers” aren’t forced to choose whether to cut their cakes on February 28 or March 1. Depending on your political jurisdiction, decisions must be made about when to celebrate in non-leap years because many government forms don’t recognize February 29 as an actual day. Sometimes, jurisdictions will make that decision for you.
I figure the odds of being born on February 29 are 1 in 1,461. According to family records available to me, only one relative across five generations beat those odds and became a leap baby.
I never knew my two grandfathers. My maternal grandfather died at age 43 some 13 years before I was born. My father’s father died before I turned 4, so I don’t remember meeting him. But he had the leap year birthday in my family — born February 29, 1880. While every leap year baby “skips” birthdays, he was especially penalized. There was no leap day in 1900, another fact we might have learned about in school.
When my wife and I were told in 1983 that our second child was due toward the end of February the following year, our imaginations ran wild. Would our child wait until February 29 so he could follow in the steps of his great-grandfather? It didn’t happen. He couldn’t even wait until Valentine’s Day to make his arrival.
Accordingly, personal inconveniences involving February 29 have been few, but I wonder. If one additional February day is good, wouldn’t two be better?
People who say that something will happen on February 30 are making a joke, but February 30 did occur at least once.
In 1700, Sweden — which included Finland at the time — planned to convert from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The year 1700, which should have been a leap year in the Julian calendar, was not a leap year in Sweden. However, 1704 and 1708 became leap years by error. This left Sweden out of synchronization with both the Julian and the Gregorian calendars, so the country reverted back to the Julian calendar.
February 30, 1712, came into existence in Sweden when the Julian calendar was restored and two leap days were added that year to accommodate it. Sweden’s final conversion to the Gregorian calendar occurred in 1753, when an 11-day correction was applied so that February 17 was succeeded by March 1 that year.
However, not everyone was pleased with such calendar reforms. Some people believed it stole 11 days of their lives. Apparently, disinformation campaigns are nothing new. The Good Book says that our days are determined, so it doesn’t matter how our calendars might choose to number them.
If you really want to get upset at something, consider what happens with our clocks two times each year. Remember, we “spring forward” next weekend.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.