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Happy Leap Day!

by Amber McDown

In the realm of timekeeping, 2024 marks a leap year, a phenomenon that occurs every four years. This occurrence, while seemingly regular, is essential for synchronizing our calendars with the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

The Earth’s orbital journey takes approximately 365.242190 days, a fraction that, if left unaccounted for, would gradually shift our seasonal calendar out of alignment. Skipping a leap year is a rare but necessary adjustment to maintain accuracy. Leap years are omitted in years divisible by 100 but not by 400. For instance, 1700, 1800, and 1900 missed leap days, while 2000 embraced the extra day.

Leap years find their roots in the reformation of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar, who, inspired by the Egyptian solar calendar, introduced a system of adding a day every fourth year to compensate for the Earth’s orbit. This adjustment placed the additional day in February, giving birth to Leap Day.

Leap Day has woven its way into various cultural traditions. In Irish folklore, St. Bridget and St. Patrick played pivotal roles in establishing it as a day when women can propose marriage. This custom later spread to Scotland and England, where, if a man declined a proposal, he was expected to gift the woman several pairs of gloves. Conversely, in Greek tradition, marrying on Leap Day is deemed unlucky.

Leap Years also align with the summer Olympics and the U.S. presidential elections.

Despite being a rare occurrence, there are approximately 5 million people worldwide born on February 29, with the odds of being born on Leap Day standing at 1 in 1,461. As we embrace this once-in-every-four-year event, it serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between our human-made calendars and the cosmic dance of the Earth around the Sun.

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