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Leap Day: What is it again and why do we have it?

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Leap Day: What is it again and why do we have it?© Shutterstock

Elizabeth Vogelzang


Why did Julius Caesar add an extra day to the calendar? And why was it on February 29th and not, say, December 32nd? This and more about what exactly happens on Leap Day.

Once every four years, a year consists of 365 days of 365 days. In that year, February 28th is not followed by March 1st, but by February 29th. This leap day was introduced as a correction of the annual calendar.

The Romans adapted their Roman calendar to the phase of the moon around 738 BC. In this era, the year has 10 months and starts in March and ends in December. Winter is not counted in the calendar because it is insignificant for agriculture. Since the seasons are no longer the same after a few years, the Romans changed their calendar. Two months are added to the year (which then consists of 355 days): January and February.

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Julius Caesar reworked the calendar around 46 BC because the calendar still didn’t match the seasons. This Julian calendar is based on the sun.

A calendar year passes only a little faster than the Earth

It takes the Earth exactly 365 days, 5 hours, 48 ​​minutes and 45.1814 seconds to orbit the Sun. Our calendar year does not exactly align with this. When the new year begins at 12 midnight on New Year’s Day, the Earth needs almost six more hours to complete its orbit.

As a result, after four years our time is already almost a day ahead of the sun. This is solved by adding an extra day every four years (4×6=24 hours).

Why not December 32?

But why do we have an extra day on February 29 and not, say, December 32? Caesar attached the leap day to the last and shortest month of the Roman year: February. March was the first month, then spring began.

Also read: Finally we can celebrate our birthdays, us “leap years”. Reporter Koos is looking for his birth announcement

It is still visible in the names of the months. September to December are derived from the Latin words seven, eight, nine and ten: septem, octo, Novem and decem. These months were originally the seventh to tenth months of the Roman year.

We live by the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. It is a correction to the Julian calendar, which was not entirely correct. A leap day every four years is not enough to be exactly on schedule. Once every few centuries there is a leap year. We will have to wait a little longer for that: the time will come again in 2100.

Read also: Aunt Mieke and niece Nienke both have birthdays on leap day. “Sometimes it feels like there’s no recognition”

Jump facts and figures

– The name ‘leap year’ comes from the Middle Dutch scricken, which meant “to walk with big steps” or “to jump”. This corresponds to the English name leap year, which literally means leap year.

– Famous Dutch leap years include: Former talk show host Sonja Barend (1940) and singer and actress Ellen Pieters (1964).

– Today, 370 children born four years ago can celebrate their birthday on a leap day for the first time. In total, more than 11 thousand people in the Netherlands have a birthday on a leap day. This year, 8 of them turn 100 years old.

– There are usually few weddings in February, but a special day like the 29th is popular. In 2016, February 29 fell on a Monday. 428 couples got married then, compared to 277 on an average Monday in February of the same year.

– In 2008, the leap day was a Friday and no less than 486 couples got married, twice as many as on an average Friday in February in 2008. In 2004, the 29th fell on a Sunday, a day when very few get married. Leap Day 2000 was a relatively popular wedding day: almost three times as many couples got married on a Tuesday in February of that year.

– On February 29, 2024, almost 2,200 couples will celebrate their wedding day. Of these, 122 couples are celebrating four years of marriage and the majority (349 couples) are celebrating their eighth anniversary. In addition, 106 couples celebrate ruby ​​weddings (40 years) and 9 couples achieve diamond bride and groom status after 60 years of marriage.

– There is a special club in America that you can only join if your birthday is on February 29: the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. Peter Brouwer is one of the initiators. Born Canadian, he has Dutch roots. His parents moved from Rotterdam to North America. Brouwer still feels involved in the land of his ancestors. “Yes, I am Dutch, or should I say: I identify as Dutch.”

– Leap day is good news for employers. Most people get a monthly salary. Monthly wages have not been adjusted for the varying length of the month. February also has the fewest working days in a leap year. In fact, a leap day means that most people work an extra day without extra pay.

SOURCE: Statistics Finland (CBS)

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