Sunday, February 29, 2004

A leap in time
Shirish Joshi

APART from 2004 being a leap year, this time February is unique in one more way. It has five Sundays. In the last century, the month of February in the leap years 1920, 1948 and, 1976 had five Sundays. The next February with five Sundays will fall in 2032. This event repeats itself every 28 years.

The calculation is simple. There are 28x365+7 leap days= 10,227 days in these 28 years. This number is exactly divisible by 7 (days in a week).

The solar year, the time taken for Earth to complete its orbit around the Sun, is about 365.242199 days, or, to a first approximation, 365.2422 days. To account for the odd quarter day, an extra calendar day is added every four years, as was first done in 46 BC, with the establishment of the Julian calendar. Over the centuries, the difference between the approximate value 0.25-day and the more accurate 0.242199-day accumulates significantly.

In the Gregorian calendar, now in general use, the discrepancy is adjusted by adding the extra day to only those century years, which are exactly divisible by 400 (e.g., 1600, 2000).

Thus, if you were born in a leap year, say on February 29, 1982, how old are you ? Are you just five or actually 22 ? well, to be precise, you are 22 "years" and six leap days’old on February 29, 2004. You have been alive for 22 years, but have had only five birthdays before February 29, 2004. Most people born in a leap year still celebrate in off years; it’s just that it’s not on February 29. They celebrate either on the last day of February or March 1, or both!

Though a leap year has 29 days in February instead of the standard 28, no one knows for sure why it is called a ‘leap year’.

There are a number of theories about why leap year is named thus. According to some historians, during a leap year the Time God has to record one extra jump or leap. Hence this name.

Another view is that in a normal year a date falls on a day succeeding that on which it fell the previous year. After the leap year, it actually ‘leaps over’, the date being separated by two days instead of just one.

Europeans call it "a year of the maiden." It is believed that any unmarried girl, who proposes in a leap year, will not be rejected without the disappointment being mollified with a gift. English, French and Italian youth followed this custom of offering gifts up to the middle of the 19th century.

The late Morarji Desai, former Finance Minister of India was born on February 29, 1896. He had the unique honour of presenting the budget on his birthday.

What are the odds of more than one Leap Day baby in the family? There are several sets of twins and even a set of triplets. There are ‘Leapies’ married to each other and ‘leapies’ giving birth to ‘leapies’!

What are the statistical odds are of having more than one Leap Day baby in a family? Mathematicians say that the odds of being born on Leap Day are 1 in 1461. This is one divided by the number of days in four years 1461. (365x3+366=1461). So two people in the same family born on a leap day is 1 divided by 1461 times 1461? This is very, low indeed.

Seeking to promote the community of those born on February 29, the Chamber of Commerce in Anthony, Taxas/New Mexico, USA, sponsored a Worldwide Leap Year Festival and a Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Club in 1988.

The then governors of New Mexico and Taxas issued proclamations naming Anthony, New Mexico/Texas as the leap Year Capital of the World.

It you were born on February 29, you too can join the club and buy yourself a ticket to the festival. So go leap at the offer.