Leaping Through The Year

iStock_000018807068_Full It’s Leap Year! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I admit it: I never fully understood the concept of Leap Year. All that I ever gleaned from it was that every four years, another day got tacked on to February. The reason for minimal conceptual comprehension had more to do with my non-interest in padding out an astronomical explanation.

My lack of lunar gravitas will likely draw ire from those more attuned to the ways of calendars and lunar-sun movements. Fortunately, the online The National Geographic’s Brian Handwerk penned “The Surprising History Behind Leap Year”, February 26, 2016. A link to the full article follows this excerpt:

Ancient Timekeeping

Efforts to make nature’s schedule fit our own have been imperfect from the start. Some ancient calendars, dating to the Sumerians 5,000 years ago, simply divided the year into 12 months of 30 days each. Their 360-day year was nearly a week shorter than our annual journey around the sun.

The practice of adding extra days to the year is at least as old as these 360-day systems.

“When the Egyptians adopted this calendar they were aware that there was a problem, but they didn’t add any more days to the calendar,” says [John] Lowe [leader of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s Time & Frequency Division].

“They just added an extra five days of festivals, of partying, at the end of the year.”


What resonates with me is how the Egyptians handled the extra time element by tacking on five more days of festivals and partying in December. I think the Egyptians were on to something with that practice, which I personally would endorse reinstating. We could use more revelry at the end of any year.

An article in the British online version of The Telegraph addresses the history of women proposing on Leap Year, which may or may not date back to the fifth century. In this article, “Leap Year 2016:  Why does February have 29 days every four years?” by Rozina Sabur, Cameron Macphail, and Juliet Eysenck. The excerpt is part of the article included in the link below.

Why does the woman propose on a Leap Year?

[In England] Women either have to wear breeches or a scarlet petticoat to pop the question, according to tradition.

In Denmark, if a man turns down a proposal they must give the woman 12 pairs of gloves and in Finland the penalty is fabric for a skirt.


It is unclear to me why the man who turns down a woman’s proposal in Finland has to fork over “fabric for a skirt”. This raises questions in my mind: What if the woman wears dresses, and not skirts? What if the woman prefers pants or jeans to skirts? Who decided on skirt apparel for the fabric anyway? The British custom is perhaps less perplexing. Wearing pants places the woman in a trouser role, which happened in grand opera, as in Mozart’s and Handel’s. The donning of a “scarlet petticoat” resonates of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, except that Hester Prynne had the wear the A [for Adulteress] emblazoned across her outer chest garment.

If a woman is plucky enough to propose, then who cares what she is, or isn’t wearing? Whomever one chooses to propose to for anything on this auspicious date, rest assured Leap Year will not return until 2020. I leave you with this somewhat cryptic observation.

Ciao for now.




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