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Opinion

Leap Year nurtures cultural traditions around the globe

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March 2, 2012

As everyone knows, 2012 marks another Leap Year, and February 29 marks the extra day that lands on the calendar every four years.

Also called the intercalary or the bissextile year, an extra day is added to the calendar every four years in order to keep the calendar synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year.

Scientifically, seasons and astronomical events do not have an amount of days that equal a whole number.

This means that if the calendar was the exact same number of days every single year, it would start to not line up with the astronomical event, and therefore, it would drift from the event it was supposed to track. Inserting this one extra day into the year assists in keeping track of the calendar days in association with seasonal or astronomical events.

The leap year is the Gregorian calendar, a calendar that adds 29 days to February instead of the usual 28, making the year have 366 days.

In a normal year, the exact amount of days during that year equals up to 365.25 days. This is shorter than a regular solar year by almost six hours. This also means that the Earth does not orbit around the Sun in precisely 365 days, it takes a little longer than that.

Normally, years that are divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they are also divisible by 400. For example, 1600 and 2000 were both leap years, but the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years. The 0.000125 difference between the 366 day Gregorian calendar and the 365 day traditional calendar means that in about 8,000 years, the year will be a day shorter than it currently is.

Another example of a leap year calendar is the Hebrew calendar, a lunisolar calendar. This calendar adds a 13th lunar month that is added seven times every 19 years. This also adds to the normal 12-month season and helps so that the seasons do not drift through the seasons too rapidly in the normal 12-month calendar.

Along with the leap year occurring every four years, different parts of the world have created their own traditions to observe the astronomical occasion.

For example, in the British Isles, women have made it a tradition to only propose marriage on the leap years. This tradition was established in the 19th Century and has been a tradition ever since.

In Denmark, the tradition is similar, except that they may also propose marriage on the bissextile leap day, February 24. If they face refusal, they must be compensated with the gift of 12 pairs of gloves.

In Finland, if a man refuses a woman’s proposal on Leap Day, then he must purchase fabrics to give her so she can make a skirt.

On the contrary, in Greece, marriage during a leap year is actually considered unlucky. One in five Greek couples will avoid getting married during a leap year.

Many people around the world have a tradition involving drugs, as February 29 also marks Rare Disease Day, but I hope that it can be used as an example to stay safe and make good choices not only on Leap Day, but throughout the entire leap year.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.