Wednesday, February 29, 2012
2012 is a leap year, with 366 days instead of the usual 365 days.
It was the ancient Egyptians who first figured out that the solar year and the man-made calendar year didn't always match up.
That's because it actually takes the Earth a little longer than a year to travel around the Sun — 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds, to be exact.
Therefore, as the hours accumulated over the centures, an extra day was occasionally added to the calendar, and over time the practice became more or less official.
The Romans first designated February 29 as leap day, but a more precise formula (still in use today) was adopted in the 16th century when the Gregorian calendar fine-tuned the calculations to include a leap day in years only divisible by four - 2012, 2016, 2020, 2024, etc.
Another stipulation ruled that no year divisible by 100 would have a leap year, except if it was divisible by 400. Thus, 1900 was not a leap year ... but 2000 was! Go figure.
Thankfully, all this intricate plotting will continue to keep us in tune with the seasons over the next several thousand years.
Born on a leap day?
According to astrologers, those born under the sign of Pisces on February 29 have unusual talents and personalities reflecting their special status.
Most have to wait every four years to "officially" observe their birthdays, but leap year babies typically choose either February 28 or March 1 to celebrate in years that aren't leap
While leap day helped official timekeepers, it also resulted in social customs turned upside down when February 29 became a "no man's land" without legal jurisdiction.
As the story goes, the tradition of women romantically pursuing men in leap years began in 5th century Ireland, when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about the fair sex having to wait for men to propose. Patrick finally relented and set February 29 aside as the day set aside allowing women the right to ask for a man's hand in marriage.
The tradition continued in Scotland, when Queen Margaret declared in 1288 that on February 29 a woman had the right to pop the question to any man she fancied. Menfolk who refused were faced with a fine in the form of a kiss, a silk dress, or a pair of gloves given to the rejected lady fair.