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Should Leap Days and Leap Years Take A Hike?

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Should Leap Days and Leap Years Take A Hike?

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February 29th is Leap Day in 2016. Ever wonder why we have Leap Days and Leap Years at all? It all starts with a little history about our calendars.

Leap Day is an artifact that dates back to 46 BC when Julius Caesar took the advice of the learned astronomer, Sosigenes of Alexandria, who knew from Egyptian experience that it took 365.25 days for the Earth to circle once around the Sun (known as a tropical year or solar year). So to account for that residual quarter of a day, an extra day — known as leap day — was added to the calendar every four years. This new “Julian” calendar was used throughout the Roman Empire and by various Christian churches. At that time, February was the last month of the year.

How It Began
Initially, in order to make a proper transition from the Roman calendar (which had 355 days and which was basically a lunar calendar) to the Julian calendar and get the months and various feasts and holidays back into their normal seasons, ninety extra days were inserted into the year 46 BC. Caesar divided the ninety extra days into three temporary months.

One month was added between February and March. Two other months (Intercalaris Prior and Intercalaris Posterior) were added after November. The end result was a year that was fifteen months and 445 days long, and was nicknamed Annus Confusionus, “Year of Confusion.”

Then, to honor his contribution to timekeeping, Caesar later renamed the fifth month (formerly known as Quintilis) after himself (July).

The Julian Calendar
The Julian calendar worked so well at first that many countries adopted it. Unfortunately, it was flawed, being .0078 of a day (about 11 minutes and 14 seconds) longer than the tropical year. So, the Julian calendar introduced an error of one day every 128 years, which meant that every 128 years the tropical year shifts one day backwards with respect to the calendar. This made the method for calculating the dates for Easter inaccurate.

So by the year 1582 – thanks to the overcompensation of observing too many leap years – the calendar had fallen out of step with the solar year by a total of 10 days. It was then that Pope Gregory XIII stepped in and, with the advice of a German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer, Christopher Clavius, produced our current “Gregorian” calendar.

Building A Better Calendar
First, to catch things up, ten days were omitted after Thursday, October 4, making the next day Friday, October 15. Unfortunately, for many, this edict was most unpopular; it was as if ten days had been taken from people’s lives. There were riots in the streets and workers demanded their ten days pay (forgetting conveniently, that they hadn’t worked those ten days)! Thankfully, all this “calendrical flak” eventually died down.

Next, to more closely match the length of the tropical year, century-years, which in the old Julian calendar would have been leap years, were not added. The exceptions were those century years equally divisible by 400, not just 4.

And that’s why the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.

Slow To Catch On?
The Gregorian calendar, however, was not adopted by the American Colonies until 1752. And that’s why George Washington was not born on Washington’s Birthday.

In our time we celebrate Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd. Well, that’s correct if you mean on the Gregorian calendar, but George was born 20 years before the Colonies switched over from the old Julian calendar. And when George was born, the error in the Julian calendar had increased to 11 days.

So, if there was a calendar hanging on the wall where the Father of our Country was born, it would have read: February 11th, 1732.

And if you think the twenty years that it took American Colonies to finally ratify the Gregorian calendar was long time, that was nothing compared Russia, who finally accepted calendar reformation in 1918. And Greece held out even longer — all the way to 1923!

Should We Change It Again?
The Gregorian calendar has proven to be far superior to the Julian calendar in that over a span of one year it runs 26 seconds too fast, but that’s an error so slight that it will not be necessary to eliminate a day from the calendar until around the year 5300.

Still, some would like to see our calendar changed yet again. One of the more popular proposals is the World Calendar created by Elisabeth Achelis of The World Calendar Association, in 1930. It consists of 364 days. The year would be divided up into four quarters, each quarter consisting of three months. The first month of each new quarter (January, April, July and October) would have 31 days and would always begin on a Sunday. All the remaining months would have just 30 days.

In such a set-up, each date would fall on the same day of the week every year. So if your birthday fell on a Tuesday, it would always fall on a Tuesday. Independence Day would always fall on a Wednesday; Christmas Day would be a Monday and Thanksgiving would finally have a fixed date: November 23rd, since the fourth Thursday in November on the World Calendar would always be on that date.

Triskaidekaphobes (those superstitious of the number 13) likely would not like this new setup; it would mean we’d see four Friday the 13ths per year (currently, the maximum number for any given year is three)!

But wait! This is a 364-day calendar. What happened to day 365? And what about Leap Years?

December 31st would be recognized as “Worldsday” (a World Holiday). It would come between Saturday, the 30th, and Sunday, January 1st of the New Year. As for Leap Years, the extra day would be inserted not at the end of February as we are doing now, but at the end of June. June 31st would thus become a second World Holiday, but like the Olympics, celebrated every four years.

In the January 17, 2016 issue of Parade magazine, Marilyn von Savant answered a question from a reader who wanted to know if there was a “less clunky” system to our present calendar.

Marilyn alluded to the Symmetry454 calendar, a perennial solar calendar that conserves the traditional 7-day week, has symmetrical equal quarters, and starts every month on Monday. All holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. are permanently fixed. All ordinal day and week numbers within the year are also permanently fixed; Friday the 13th never occurs under this calendar.

“But there’s a teensy drawback,” notes Marilyn. “Every five or six years, you would have to add a week at the end of December!”

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46 comments

1 wayne keith { 03.03.16 at 10:19 am }

Keep it, but move it two years so we don’t have to suffer through an extra day of presidential campaigning. Also, Leap Day should be a National, paid holiday, maybe even move it to a Monday.

2 Aunt Be { 03.01.16 at 12:00 am }

KEEP IT!!!!

3 Mattie { 02.28.16 at 2:42 pm }

Daylight Savings time needs to go…it’s not the 1800’s, we don’t need the light to work the farm…as for calendars? Leave it be, I think enough people have messed with it. In the end it doesn’t matter, we really have no clue what the true date is.

4 Dean crawford { 02.27.16 at 1:09 am }

When will every one just leave stuff alone or figure out every time they have a “better way” it aint. keep leal year!! Besides I’d hate to see all those people be unhappy because they can’t age.

5 Helen { 02.26.16 at 3:55 pm }

Keep leap year and do away with daylight saving time. It is a nuisance.

6 Jamie Payne { 02.26.16 at 9:12 am }

I am a leap year baby and I would be so upset if my birthday want there anymore,…. As I’m sure so would so many other people!!!!! Please don’t take it away!

7 Ree { 02.26.16 at 1:50 am }

Leave it alone-get rid of day light savings time.

8 Judy { 02.25.16 at 5:04 pm }

YES! PLEASE GET RID OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME!!!!!!!!!

9 Mary { 02.25.16 at 4:47 pm }

Keep it like it is !!!! Always worked , dont fix what’s not broken

10 Connie Cornwall Weatherhead { 02.25.16 at 4:37 pm }

I say keep Feb. 29 since my husband and I were married on that special day! Thank you

11 donna { 02.25.16 at 1:06 pm }

i don’t tweet, so i couldn’t do the survey thingy. i say keep the leap year, since there are baby’s born on feb 29, they need to have their special day. daylight savings time,,i could take it or leave it. i just know that dec 21 is the shortest day then the days get longer before the daylight savings time thing starts.

12 Karen { 02.25.16 at 12:44 pm }

Keep Leap Year – it would be way too confusing to try to change something that is working fine and is already something we are used to. I however absolutely love daylight savings. I’m wondering where most people who don’t like it are from as sunrise sunset times are different around the country.

13 Di Jan { 02.25.16 at 11:18 am }

Keep leap year, get rid of daylight saving.

14 Di Jan { 02.25.16 at 11:17 am }

Keep leap years! Get rid of daylight saving!

15 Heather Rushing { 02.25.16 at 9:33 am }

Keep the present calendar system. DO get rid of daylight savings!

16 EZgoing { 02.24.16 at 8:05 pm }

Leave it for future generations to decide on… AFTER I’m long gone.

17 Gramlyn { 02.24.16 at 6:06 pm }

I say keep it same as before, I too like leaps. But Daylight Saving should go the way of the wild goose, most especially the “spring forward”. Enjoyed the comments…thank you

18 Joe Smith { 02.24.16 at 4:41 pm }

I vote for and support keeping leap year just the way it is. I strongly agree with all the nice folks that have posted comments and I join Victoria in wondering what is wrong with leap year. I wish a very “Happy Birthday” to everyone born on February 29th.

19 Susie { 02.24.16 at 3:16 pm }

Remember the nightmare prep of Y2K? I can only imagine the issues of a calendar change in today’s tech world.

20 Mic { 02.24.16 at 2:13 pm }

I’m old school, but not ancient school. I like the way things are set up now just fine (current calendar and daylight savings both). I’d hate to lose daylight savings because I wouldn’t have time to do things I would normally get to do with an hour less daylight each day.

21 Chism { 02.24.16 at 1:58 pm }

Leap years are fun. Keeps us wondering how this happens and therefore keeps us thinking. That’s a good thing! I agree with others – PLEASE do away with daylight savings time. The changes are always so hard on our bodies and minds!

22 my son is born March 1,so everyleap year he has to wait an extera day fornhis birthday. { 02.24.16 at 1:57 pm }

My son is born the first off march so he has to wait one extera day leap year for his birthday,no big deal thoe,ilike leap year.

23 Dee Reynolds { 02.24.16 at 1:55 pm }

Keep Leap Years. Please, please, please …… end Daylight Savings Time! Not only is it useless; but having little kids waiting at school bus stops in the dark is scary!

24 Don { 02.24.16 at 1:25 pm }

I say leave it alone. I like Leap Year I think its because I was born on Leap Year Feb. 29. 1960 Hey I’m going to be 14 yrs old haha. Really I’ll be 56.

25 SARTR { 02.24.16 at 1:08 pm }

Please do not change Leap Year. Keep it. It works. But I do agree with doing away with Daylight Savings Time. It is hard to adjust, when springing forward in the spring.

26 Lynn Schroder { 02.24.16 at 12:35 pm }

Leave it alone

27 Wanda McDonald { 02.24.16 at 12:31 pm }

I say keep Leap Year myself. I think those born on Leap Year like having their birthday on a day that only comes around every four years. Don’t see any problems with it and don’t know anyone who has a problem with an extra day in the year. Everyone is complaining about daylight savings time. I myself like that it stays daylight so long in the summer. Living in the south, sometimes late in the day is the only time you can stand to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. I say if you’re gonna do away with DST, leave it the way it is during the summer. I hate it getting dark so early at night during the winter!

28 Ricci { 02.24.16 at 11:18 am }

Leap year is sort of ridiculous, I would be cool with getting rid of it!
Daylight savings time, on the other hand is RIDICULOUS. We are THE ONLY country that uses daylight savings time, let’s stop it’s unnecessary.

29 Trystan { 02.24.16 at 11:16 am }

it never occurred to me that February 29th was even an issue.

and as so many above me said, we need to get rid of Daylight Savings Time! that’s the real issue.

30 cj { 02.24.16 at 10:56 am }

ok either way – keep leap year or drop it. what i really don’t understand is all the negativity about DST – i kind of like it and it’s really not all that hard to adjust to.:)

31 Sara { 02.24.16 at 10:53 am }

It’s fine the way it is, bur PLEASE get RID of daylight savings time!!!! It just doens’t do any good!

32 NW { 02.24.16 at 10:34 am }

Leave leap year, it’s a necessary adjustment to our calendar and it’s sort of fun having a day that comes only once every four years. But why haven’t we done away with daylight savings time??

33 Joanne { 02.24.16 at 10:03 am }

The earth still revolves around the sun a certain number of days. Changing the calendar will not change that. To change tell calendar because the extra day is a bother to some people is nuts. Keep it. The extra day is fun for a lot of people. It works and is globally accepted. Why cause the uproar a change would cause. Don’t we have enough problems?

34 Ronni { 02.24.16 at 10:00 am }

Leap year is fine, but PLEASE do away with daylight saving time! So confusing!

35 alfreda { 02.24.16 at 9:57 am }

Enjoy being a leap year baby!

36 Marianne Milner { 02.24.16 at 9:49 am }

Leave it as it is but for goodness sakes GET RID OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME!!!!! THAT is the biggest problem of all! We no longer have farmers who have 10 kids and need them to work in the fields for 15 hours a day in the summer. When will this world figure that out?????

37 "Bert" { 02.24.16 at 9:45 am }

Keep it! Our “Leapling” grandson feels really special on his actual Feb. 29th bday….this will be his 3rd (he’s 12)…. I agree with all who vote not to mess with it and to seriously consider eliminating daylight savings time.

38 DJ { 02.24.16 at 9:31 am }

People always want to change things that are doing ok. Leave it alone! Daylight savings time is more of a problem

39 robin hamm { 02.24.16 at 9:12 am }

Leave it! Why change things? “if its not broke don’t fix it”!!

40 Kim { 02.24.16 at 9:07 am }

Is there a way to incorporate the extra 26 seconds easily into our current calendar? Can we add 2 seconds to each current month to get closer? I agree with all who say get rid of Daylight Savings time. It is antiquated and a real pain.

41 Matt { 02.24.16 at 9:03 am }

Keep it. I agree with Lin

42 Juan { 02.24.16 at 8:56 am }

Why change a system that works and finally accepted world wide to satisfy busy minds? They should look elsewhere to make a name for themselves.

43 Catherine { 02.24.16 at 8:43 am }

Keep it, and I agree with Lin – get rid of Daylight Saving.

44 Lin { 02.24.16 at 8:21 am }

Keep it as is. I would rather see daylight savings leave!

45 Victoria Smith { 02.24.16 at 8:17 am }

What’s wrong with things the way they are?I like having an extra day.Thank You.

46 Dee { 02.24.16 at 8:15 am }

Keep it! People, like me, who were born on Feb 29th gets shortchanged enough without doing away with our birthday for good!!!!

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