26/02/2020

The Extra Day!


How will you spend 2020’s Extra Day on Saturday? Leap years have to happen every four years (with the exception of centurial years like 2000) otherwise we’d lose six hours per annum and eventually end up with no time at all! Well, not literally of course. This addition ensures the Gregorian calendar remains in alignment with Earth’s revolutions around the Sun and was originally the idea of Julius Caesar.  So we have this extra day of 29 February though presumably it could be any day and you could have a June 31st or July 32nd. People whose birthday is on 29 February usually celebrate in the intervening non Leap Years either on 28 February or 1 March. And they endlessly think that saying they're only 8 or something is funny. It’s a bit odd we call this a Leap Year as it has an extra day in it rather than one day less but the name refers to the fact that other events `leap` over a day.




If you search online for significant things that have occurred on 29 February there are hardly any and no major historical event seems to have taken place on this date. One event that did occur, though this was way, way back in 992, was the death of King Oswald of Northumbria later St Oswald. Hence the 29th is also St Oswald’s Day. As a warrior leader he seems an unlikely candidate for sainthood but following his conversion to Christianity in 627 he did much to spread religion in Northumbria and was also said to be generous towards the poor. He ended up being killed by Mercians (you can never trust them!) in the Battle of Maserfield. There’s a lot of tales of the spot where he perished being the location of unusual occurrences involving ravens and trees, you know the kind of thing. His head was later interred in Durham Cathedral. Not sure about the rest of him. In every image of him available he looks miserable and possibly unhappy with his crown. Well its not a proper crown fit for a King is it really. On this example below he had to walk around with a one dimensional cut out of crown stapled into his hair. And no King really wants that.



So is there anything remarkable about the 29 February other than its intermittent existence? Well, on that day women can propose to men. Admittedly this can happen any day, there’s no actual law about it. In some European cultures though there is a tradition saying that if the man turns down the proposal he has to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. This rather seems like adding insult to injury especially as it blames the woman who is supposed to wear these gloves to hide a lack of engagement ring. You imagine these were traditions invented by men. In Scotland, known for its sense of the dour, people born on 29 February are supposed to be unlucky in love. Whether there is any proof of this is not clear but you can easily visualise Scottish pastors tutting and shaking their heads over a leap day baby. “He’ll be alone his whole miserable life, poor wee child, living in a draughty tower with only a goat for company….”etc.

There are occasions when some countries have had a 30th February! When Sweden was changing from the Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1700 something went wrong with their calculations and in 1712 they had a 30 February. This whole thing later became so messy that in 1753 they took 11 days out of the month altogether meaning 17 February was followed by 1 March! It just goes to show how you can’t rely on beans and counting ducks as a way of measuring time. I imagine the head timekeeper skipped town fairly quickly. In both 1930 and 1931 the Soviet Union introduced 30 day months to change seven day weeks into five day weeks. The end result was probably complete chaos.

Enjoy 2020’s Extra Day!

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