On This Day in History: Leap Year Day
In 2012 we add one day more day to the year, Feb. 29, to bring our calendar more nearly into accord with the seasons.
Under the Julian calendar, every fourth year was a leap year, on the assumption that it took the Earth 365.25 days to orbit the sun. However, the Earth’s orbital period is actually 365.24219 days. Over the more than 1,600 years that the Julian calendar was used the calendar got out of sync with the seasons. The Gregorian calendar made just one small change: a leap day is added to the calendar once every four years except for century years which are not exactly divisible by 400. Since 2000 was divisible by 400, it was a leap year, 1900 was not. The next leap year will be 2016.
Common Years and Leap Years
A “common year” (any year that is not a leap year) comprises an exact number of weeks (52) plus one day. That extra day means that if a given date of the year, say your birthday, falls on a Monday in one common year, it will fall on a Tuesday the next common year, and so on — one extra day per pear, as long as the years are common. However, the rule changes for leap years. A leap year is 52 weeks plus two days. So a date, such as your birthday that fell on Monday the previous year, in a leap year falls not on Tuesday but on Wednesday. It has leaped over a day of the week. That is why the year is called a “leap year.” The “leap” occurs throughout the period from March 1 through the following February 28.
Leap Year has long been associated with the tradition of having women propose to bachelors rather than await proposals of marriage from them. In Scotland as early as the year 1288, Parliament made it legal for a woman to make a proposal of marriage to a man on February 29 and supposedly even went so far as to pass a law forbidding any man to turn down a girl who proposed to him on Leap Year Day.
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