The Marfa Meanderthal: Leap Year

Thirty days hath September. All the rest I don’t remember! Except, that is, February, which has only 28. Except again, in leap year; then it has 29. So much for old misquoted rhymes. However, 2020 does happen to be a leap year, and this month, February, has that extra day. So, what’s it all about? Why does it even happen?

There are numerous calendars and other time-counting systems that have been used throughout history, but in this particular case we are only going to consider the one in use by most of us here today. This calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and is called the Gregorian calendar for obvious reasons. By this time-calculating system, the common year is actually considered to be

365.2422 days long, given a 24-hour day. The year is then divided into 12 months, so there is no way to fit an equal number of days into each one. Eleven of these months were given either 30 or 31 days, leaving one month (for some reason February was chosen) with only 28.25 days. To untie the knot that this can create in the human mind, February was assigned only 28 days –– except on every fourth year when it was given the dubious gift of an extra day for a total of 29. (Are you confused yet? I am!) This has been calculated since by dividing the years’ designated numbers (for instance 2020) by 4 to determine when the extra day would occur. If evenly divisible by 4, then it was called a Leap Year. And yes, there is also an exception to this rule, but we have to end calculations somewhere, and this is where my brain starts to hurt.

So, what about this extra day? What do we do with it? Or does it even matter? There is a tradition some say that was started in Ireland, possibly by Saint Patrick (the same guy who was blamed for the Fair Isle’s lack of snakes) and that gave women the right to propose marriage to their chosen men on this one day every 4 years. Legend has it that it was subsequently shared with Scotland and then with England. And of course, if it was good for someone’s great-grand-ancestor, it was also fit for those rebellious colonists in America. In our modern western world however, this has become irrelevant, as women have demanded and been granted the right to be the aggressors or the initiators of any relationship they care to pursue. (Of course, this also includes the right to be rejected — enough said.) So what else could we do with this “bonus day” that occurs during leap year?

Perhaps it could be a catch-up day, since everybody seems to have so much going on that we’re always behind on something. Or maybe it could be declared an extra day of rest. Personally, I’d like to see it as a “do-over” day — a day to correct some mistakes made during the last four years. Wouldn’t it be great to go back and relive some unpleasant incident, ending up with a different outcome? Fantasy, I know — but maybe I could possibly make amends for hurt feelings or repay an old debt. Or since February is the month of Valentine’s and expressions of love, we might possibly…? Who knows? I’m sure everyone can imagine their own ideal way to spend this “extra” day. But I do realize that life goes on –– jobs, families, responsibilities — and this will actually be just another day on the calendar. It’s not a recognized holiday even unofficially. But inside your mind, it can be your very own private day, designated for anything you wish. Whatever you do, enjoy it and think about it. It won’t come around again for 4 more years!

*Facts and factoids quoted here were taken from timeanddate.com, and are not figments of the writer’s imagination, no matter how strange.