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Thanks to Julius Caesar, the month of love lasts a day longer every four years. In 45 BC, the Roman emperor designated February 29 as leap day, to align the calendar with the Earth’s revolutions around the sun. But even before the Roman calendar was set, the ancient Egyptians observed that the 365-day calendar shifted one day every four years, with respect to the seasons.
Through his Canopus decree in 238 BCE, King Ptolemaios III Euergetes had one more day added every four years, but this wasn't practiced until Augustus reformed the Egyptian calendar in 30 BCE, history buff Holger Oertel explains in his website on calendars.
As explained on Eric Weisstein's World of Science website, leap years synchronize the calendar with the seasons, because a tropical year is actually a bit more than 365 days—365.242190 days long, to be exact.
Simply adding a leap day every four years would eventually result in too many leap years, leading to another stipulation set with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. The rule is that a leap year occurs in years divisible by four, except for those which are divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400.
"Therefore, the year 2000 will be a leap year, but the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not. The complete list of leap years in the first half of the 21st century is therefore 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, 2024, 2028, 2032, 2036, 2040, 2044, and 2048," explains the Science World article.
Even with all these adjustments, trivia geek Jay Garmon warns that the leap year system is likely to eventually "fail." "A recurring margin of error is building in the leap year system that suggests it will fail — as in, the vernal equinox will be more than a day removed from March 21 — at a particular date in the future," he writes.
Leap year babies (leapers) may not always get to celebrate their birthday on the actual date, but they do get to throw a Sweet 16 party when they turn 64. "It's my 20th birthday but I'm going to be 80 years old," 1932 leap year baby Mary Ann Brown tells Reuters' Barbara Goldberg. Brown founded the Worldwide Leap Year Festival in 1988 in Anthony, Texas, which calls itself the leap year capital of the world.
Leapers don't have it easy, as computers and even people sometimes don't recognize their birthday, the Reuters report says. Even Google, whose doodle on February 29, 2012 pays tribute to leap day and February 29-born composer Gioacchino Rossini, has yet to correct a glitch in their Blogger program that prevents leapers from updating their profile. Frustrated leapers can find sympathy at online club The Honor Society for Leap Year Babies, which has over 9,000 members.
"We're not curing cancer or stopping world wars but it still is a significant thing that needs to be addressed. It does affect the whole world," says Raenell Dawn in the Reuters report. In 1997, Dawn created the club with Peter Brouwer, who says February 29 is sometimes considered an invalid date.
Famous leapers include former Indian prime minister Morarji Desai (1896-1995), jazz musician Jimmy Dorsey (1904-1957), Italian opera composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), rapper Ja Rule (1976), model and actor Anthonio Sabato Jr. (1972), American singer Dinah Shore (1916-1994), and American serial killer Aileen Wuornos (1956-2002) played by Charlize Theron in "Monster."
Indeed, leap year also affects people who weren't born on February 29, and the superstitions vary from place to place. For instance, people in Greece avoid getting married in a leap year, as they believe doing so will bring bad luck. But in Ireland, a leap year is a window of opportunity for women to propose to men, as seen in the 2010 romantic comedy "Leap Year."
In the Chinese calendar, a leap year has 13 months. Every three years or so, a leap month is added, and its name is the same as the previous lunar month.
Similarly, the Jewish calendar also has 13 months in a leap year, which has 383, 384 or 385 days. In the Jewish leap year, the extra month called Adar I is believed to be a lucky month.
In the Islamic leap year, the additional day is found at the end of the last month, Dhu 'l-Hidjdja, which is also the month of the Hajj, when Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. –KG, GMA News