Pass It On

Tidbits and treats from the Sunnyvale Public Library Reference Division

Leap Day! February 28, 2008

Filed under: History — svref @ 8:29 pm

greatwalljump.jpgCheck your clocks and calendars…it’s a leap year and that means March will have to wait a day.

It’s fairly common knowledge that every four years, we add an extra day to the month of February to help account for the fact that the Earth’s orbit around the Sun actually takes slightly more than 365 days. Less commonly know, however, is that century years (1900, 2000, 2100, for example) only receive a leap day if the year is evenly divisible by 400. So the year 2000 (2000÷400=5) had an extra day, but the year 2100 (2100÷400=5.25) will not. This is because the actual length of the year is close to 365.242 days, which would create three too many days added over a 400-year period.

If it all seems too technical, you might be interested to know that leap years have long been associated with a variety of superstitions and traditions. A popular old wives’ tale makes it proper on a leap day for a woman to propose marriage to her man and makes him beholden to accept the proposal. Some ancient cultures perceived leap days to be harbingers of bad luck, leading governments to ignore them altogether at times.

Signs don’t point to the federal government skipping this year’s leap day, and most of us aren’t yet nervous about 2100, so unless you have designs on proposing tomorrow, leap day 2008 will probably go off without a hitch. Unless your time/date clock doesn’t track years and thinks it’s March 1…

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