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Today is a leap day: Its myths, tales

Remember the traditional verse mnemonic “Thirty Days Hath September” graders of not long ago—from Tawi-Tawi up to Batanes—memorized as an oral tradition?

It was a common memory block among graders, recited in full: “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have thirty-one, except February alone, which has twenty-eight rain or shine, except for leap year, 29.

Today is February 29, as if you did not know, which makes 2020 yet another leap year, four years after 2016, a leap year occurring every four years.

There are myths surrounding leap years: Get hitched during a leap year, when girls are dime a dozen; being born on February 29 can be extremely unlucky, with Scottish believing that if you are born on the Leap Day your life will have an everlasting floodway of suffering.

And one may not have one’s birthday on that day every year, no thanks to the existing computer systems.

While you are reading this, others elsewhere in the metropolis and the archipelago may be thinking leap years are silly.

After Pope Gregory XIII instituted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, the idea of adding February 29th every four years seemed so ridiculous that a British play joked it was a day when women should trade their dresses for “breeches” and act like men.

Leap Day proposal

The play was meant as satire, but some early feminists must have been inspired; by the 1700s, women were using Leap Day to propose to the men in their lives. The tradition—now called Bachelor’s Day or Sadie Hawkins Day—peaked in the early 20th century and and continues today in Britain, where some retailers even offer discount packages to women popping the question.

Closer to home, Dr. Rene Samaniego of Makati Medical Center’s Section of Psychiatry has observed that people tend to believe the myth that February 29 is unsuitable for new beginnings, underlining however this is plain superstition.

“Being something that isn’t part of the norm, the leap year can affect our customary world view. And as a rule, most people are afraid of anything ‘supernatural’ or different from what they are used to, so superstitions like these are created.”

In other words, flies on the wall say it is perfectly fine to accept a job offer or go on a trip on February 29 because it is just like any other day of the year.

Another strange myth is that the mortality rate of people born on the leap day continues to go up. Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Makati Medical Center said the number remains in the standard—1,790,367 live births in the country were reported in at least one leap year which is 2012.

Many people are also told to avoid getting married, ending a relationship or having babies during the leap year because these may end up badly.

But these are just myths, widely held across the continents but are false beliefs or ideas and therefore marked as such.

Out of whack

If there had been no February 29, the world would have been out of whack, many time observers east and west of the International Date Line have said.

Why is there a leap year?

Even though the standard calendar year is 365 days, Earth actually takes 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds to go completely around the sun., which is called a solar year. To keep the calendar cycle synchronized with the seasons, one extra day is (usually) added every four years as February 29.

The Julian calendar (established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC) introduced the Egyptian solar calendar to the Roman world, standardized the 365-day year, and created the predecessor to today’s current leap year. February 29 was not reflected on the Julian calendar, rather February 23 was repeated every four years.

One may ask: “The solar year is not a full 365 days and 6 hours, so what about those extra 11 minutes and 14 seconds?” An additional calendar reformation in the 1500s added a special rule to adjust for this discrepancy. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII created a slightly modified calendar to better account for leap days.

Called the Gregorian calendar, this new system said that no century year (like 1900) would be a leap year except for centuries divisible by 400 (like 2000). To correct the calendar, the Pope eliminated October 5 through October 14, 1582.

Science fiction

The calendar moved directly from the fourth to the fifteenth to align the dates with the seasons again. It sounds like science fiction to think that 10 full days were removed from the calendar in the year 1582.

But where does the phrase leap year come from?

In 365-day years, known as common years, fixed dates advance one day in the week per year. For example, Christmas fell on a Tuesday in 2018 and on a Wednesday in 2019.

With the insertion of a leap day, dates (following February) advance two days instead of one. In 2020, Christmas will leap over Thursday to fall on a Friday.

A leap year—also known as an intercalary year or bissextile year—is a calendar year that contains an additional day (or, in the case of a lunisolar calendar, a month) added to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical year or seasonal year.

Because astronomical events and seasons do not repeat in a whole number of days, experts say calendars that have the same number of days in each year drift over time with respect to the event that the year is supposed to track.

By inserting—called intercalating in technical terminology—an additional day or month into the year, the drift can be corrected. A year that is not a leap year is, you should know by now, a common year.

Topics: “Thirty Days Hath September” , leap year , myths , tales , Pope Gregory XIII
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