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Explainer: What is a Leap Year?

Happy leap day!
by Mikey Agulto | Feb 29, 2012
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Hey, it's the 29th of February! We haven't seen February 29 since four years ago, so rare occurences like today certainly bring in the good vibes, no? It almost feels like the Man upstairs is giving us a bonus of a day every four years, so we're better off spending it as wisely and happily as possible. But while we'd like to believe it really works that way, there is actually an explanation as to how and why the idea of leap years came to be:

What is a leap year?
It is a year that bears one additional day in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. As opposed to a common year, leap years only occur every four years. Adding a 29th day to the month of February puts the total number of days of the year to 366 instead of the usual 365. The year 2012, as was 2008, 2004, and the subsequent four years before that, are prime examples.

What’s that additional day for?
The leap year custom is common knowledge by now, but the principle behind it remains to be a blur to some. A common year isn’t only 365 days long, you see. It’s actually 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 16 seconds long. That’s because the earth rotates around the sun in a span of 365.25 days, yet the calendar only recognizes the exact 365. No biggie at first, but with that extra quarter of a day adding up annually, the calendar will be out of sync with the seasons for the years that will follow. Having a leap year every four years helps the seasons start on the same day every year.

Who said a year should only have 365 days anyway?
It takes a whole day for the earth to rotate on its own, and as stated above, a total of 365.25 times to circle the sun. The idea of a leap year was implemented over 2,000 years ago by Julius Caesar, who created the 365-day Julian calendar. An astronomer named Sosigenes suggested the inclusion of an extra day in February every four years for the very reasons mentioned earlier.

The Julian calendar was considered the most accepted civil calendar before and during the 20th century. It has since been universally replaced by the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, to further correct the discrepancies of a leap day.

What makes leap years such a big deal again?
A lot of things happen especially on leap years. People born on February 29 only get to celebrate their birthday every four years. Leap year babies either acknowledge their legal birth date as either February 28 or March 1, depending on the time intervals surrounding one’s country.

Traditions are also big on leap years, especially when it comes to women and proposals. Cultures in countries such as Denmark, Finland, and the British Isles suggest that women may openly propose marriage to their lovers during leap years. Refusal on the man’s part will require a small amount of compensation to, you know, soften the blow. Folks in Greece on the other hand believe that getting married on a leap year is unlucky.

Even the world of politics is in on this thing. The United States and Republic of China’s respective presidential elections are almost always held during leap years, while sports events such as the UEFA European Football Championships, the Summer Olympic Games, and the Winter Olympic Games only take place every four years.

I guess I don’t care much about leap years.
You damn well should, especially if you’re a working man. In some countries, working on a February 29 pretty much indicates that you are working for free, since fixed annual wages do not cover that extra day of work. Today is a Wednesday, which means you’re probably laboring hard right now without an extra day’s pay. We apologize for that pissing truth.

Could you repeat that one more time?
Okay junior, listen up:

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