Featured Stories Life!

EXPLAINER: What is a Leap Year?

Leap Year

CEBU CITY, Philippines –Imagine the dance of time, where every four years, our calendar takes a leap, extending its embrace to a magical 366 days. 

It’s not just an extra date on the calendar; it’s a phenomenon that weaves together the intricate threads of our Gregorian and Solar calendars, as if orchestrating a celestial ballet.

2024 is a leap year.

With this, Engineer Mario Raymundo, the former chief of the Astronomical Observation and Time Service Unit of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) Central Office, and now the senior weather specialist, gives us an explanation of what a leap year is.

READ MORE: Leap Day? What would happen without one?

He starts by saying that the calendar we are using has 365 days. However, it always has a ¼ of a day excess.

 The leap year swoops in to the rescue, collecting these excess moments over four years, crafting a crescendo that crescendos into the grand performance we know as the leap year.

“Ganun ka simple yun. Yung laging excess na .25 o ¼ of a day ay sinasama-sama at idinadagdag yun sa pang apat na taon at ang pang apat na taon na yun ay tinatawag nating leap year,” Raymundo said.

(It’s that simple. The excess of .25 or ¼ of a day is put together and added on the fourth year and that fourth year is what we call the leap year.)

The Origin of Leap Year

The origin of the leap year spans decades, which means it had already been adopted even before our birth.

The historical origin of the leap year is not attributed to Julius Caesar. Romulus, the first king of Rome, initially established the Roman calendar, Raymundo said.

However, at that time, their understanding of the Earth’s orbit was limited, and the calendar consisted of only ten months, March to December, with months having 30 or 31 days. Considering ten months, with six having 30 days and four having 31, they incorrectly totaled it to 304 days.

Subsequently, under the rule of King Pompilius, adjustments were made to avoid the perceived negative connotation associated with even numbers in Roman culture. The original 30 days from March to December were reduced to 29, resulting in a total of 298 days, which was also inaccurate.

READ MORE: Same again? 1996 calendars reused for 2024

Realizing the need for change due to misalignments with seasonal activities and celebrations, scholars studied lunar cycles and discovered that one lunation is approximately 29.5 days. Incorporating this knowledge, they devised a new calendar with 12 months, including January and February, totaling 354 days.

To address the discrepancy with the solar year lasting over 365 days, an extra day was added, bringing the total to 355.

Adjustments made

Initially, January had 29 days, and February had 28 in this revised calendar by Pompilius, but it still fell short by ten days. Julius Caesar introduced further modifications, maintaining February at 28 days but adjusting January to 31 days.

Despite these adjustments, a shortfall remained, prompting the introduction of the leap year by Julius Caesar, ensuring that every four years, the 365.25-day cycle was rounded up to 366 days.

Originally, February was intended to have 30 days, but practical considerations led to its retention at 28, causing the need for the leap year adjustment.

Furthermore, while traditionally every fourth year is designated as a Leap Year, Pope Gregory XIII introduced refinements to the calendar in 1582.

According to his specifications, a Leap Year must be divisible by four, except for century years, which require further divisibility by 400 to qualify.

Consequently, the years 2000 and 2400 are recognized as Leap Years, adhering to these criteria. However, years like 2100, 2200, and 2300 do not meet the necessary conditions for Leap Year status.

Traditions and Superstitions of Leap Year

Leap Year isn’t just an extra day on the calendar; it’s a quirky mix of traditions and superstitions that have been brewing for years.

Engineer Raymundo mentioned that in European cultures, opinions on Leap Year are divided, with some considering it either a bearer of good fortune or bad luck.

With matters of love and romance, Raymundo said, traditionally, men are typically the ones who have the right to court and approach women. However, during Leap Year, a unique twist occurs, granting women the right to initiate and court men.

“Kaya nga dito satin (in the Philippines), may kasabihan na ngayon ko lang na realize na kapag leap year, pinag iingat lahat ng lalaki, mga pogi, mag ingat, sapagkat leap year ngayon pwede kang mapikot” 

(That’s why here in the Philippines, there’s a saying that I just realized that whenever it’s leap year, all men, the handsome, should be careful because this leap year, they can be forced into a relationship.)

In Greece, they’re superstitious about getting hitched during a Leap Year, thinking it’s a one-way ticket to divorce. And if a couple decides to part ways in a Leap Year, Greek superstition says they’re signing up for a lifetime of unhappiness.

In Scotland, being born on Leap Day, known as a “leapling,” is seen as a ticket to a challenging life, extending its shadow to agriculture with the saying, “Leap Year was never a good sheep year.”

Leap Day births

However, the tides turn elsewhere, considering Leap Day births extremely fortunate due to their rarity – a mere one in 1,461. Astrologers tie this uniqueness to talents and good looks, especially for those born under the Pisces sign, which includes Leap Day.

Historically, astrologers have showered children born on Leap Day with unique talents and personalities. Notable leaplings like rapper Ja Rule, Hollywood actors Antonio Sabàto Jr., Peter Scanavino, Alex Rocco, and jazz legend Jimmy Dorsey add a touch of glamour to this extraordinary birthdate.

READ: Leap-Year baby: How it feels to be born on February 29?

Yet, the Leap Year comes with an ominous tag in Russia, where it’s linked to unusual weather patterns and a heightened risk of death.

A prevalent superstition even suggests that Leap Years usher in more deaths. While science doesn’t back these Leap Year superstitions, some argue that indulging in these myths adds a playful and harmless twist to the bonus day on the calendar.

Trivia and Facts about Leap Year

Did you know that despite the infrequency of Leap Years, February 29th has been witness to several noteworthy events throughout history?

Here are a few examples:

On February 29, 1692, the Salem witch trials took a dark turn as the first warrants for arrest were issued, marking a pivotal moment in history.

Jumping to 1940, on the same date, actress Hattie McDaniel made history by winning an Oscar for her outstanding performance in Gone With the Wind, becoming the first African-American woman to achieve this accolade.

Moving forward to 1956, February 29th was a somber day for the Philippines as they mourned the passing of former President Elpidio Quirino, who suffered a fatal heart attack at his residence in Quezon City.

In 1986, British astronomer Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell made a significant announcement on that date. She unveiled the discovery of the first pulsar, a celestial body emitting radio waves, expanding our knowledge of the cosmos.


TAGS: calendar, leap year
Latest Stories
Most Read