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Leap Year

Editor-in-chief, gerontologist

February 2016 Leap year, 1stThis year is a leap year. That extra day on February 29th gives us a full twenty-four hours of added time to use as we see fit. Mathematically speaking, since this day occurs once every four years, we may only live to see twenty leap days. We should really make these count.

Why do we have a leap year? Leap years came about from the need to synchronize our calendar year with the solar year (the time it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun). The actual time it takes for a solar year is 365.2421 days, which results in roughly a fourth a day to make up every year. This leaves an added day every four years. Since .2421 is not exactly a fourth (or .25), 11 minutes per year or 1 day every 128 years is considered an overage. To fix this glitch, there is no leap year three times every 400 years. The actual rule of thumb is that leap years are years divisible by 4, except for years that are divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400. For example,1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200 and 2300 are not leap years.

The term leap year was coined because each year on the calendar, the day of the week in which a certain date falls on moves ahead by a day every year. So for example, if your birthday was on a Wednesday in 2013, it was on a Thursday in 2014, and on a Friday in 2015. But since 2016 is a leap year, your birthday falls on a Sunday, thus “leaping” ahead by an extra day.

February 2016 Leap year, 2ndThe odds of being born on a leap day are 1 to 1,461. These babies are called “leapers” or “leaplings” and throughout their lives, issues surrounding their birthday bring up some interesting dynamics. Depending on the state they were born in, their official birthday is either deemed as February 29th or March 1st. In most states, however, leapers official birthdays are on March 1st.  So I guess the joke about those born in a leap year aging only a fourth as much as the rest of us doesn’t hold true in the official world.

The other subject associated with leap year is the folklore pertaining to women proposing marriage to men. There are arguments on exactly where this practice came from. Some believe it began in 5th century Ireland and then brought over to Scotland. Other historians think that it stems from the time of English law when leap day was not recognized as legal, thus making such proposals invalid. Here in the US, February 29th is sometimes known as Sadie Hawkins Day (coming out of the Li’l Abner comic strip about a 35- year-old spinster racing trying to catch a husband). The actual Sadie Hawkins Day was celebrated each year on November 15th and Sadie Hawkins dances were a popular practice during the late 1940s and 1950s where girls were given the “freedom” to ask boys to dance. Today the idea of only one day a year (whether November 15th or February 29th) where it is acceptable for women to propose to men is archaic.  Current gender roles are much less defined.

So now that you know a little bit about the history associated with leap year, when you wake up on February 29th this year, be sure to make the most of it. Think of the day as a small gift of extra time and enjoy all the possibilities it can bring. My only complaint is that leap year coincides with the presidential election year. Even one extra day of political rhetoric is more than any of us should have to endure!

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Cynthia Lopinto

Cyn LoPinto, M.A. is a gerontologist focusing on significant issues affecting older adults and their families. Her areas of interest include lifestyle enrichment, family dynamics, and caregiver support. Cyn has worked in both the recreational and healthcare industries.

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