WOSTER: Rare Leap Day birthdays a fascinating occurrenceWhen I was a kid, I had a classmate who was born on Feb. 29. That made him a Leap Year baby.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
When I was a kid, I had a classmate who was born on Feb. 29. That made him a Leap Year baby.
He celebrated a birthday every year, but he celebrated his birth date just once every four years.
One year, a Leap Year during which his actual number came up at the end of February, I was invited to a party for the kid. Grade school parties were mostly ice cream and layer cake from the birthday boy’s mom and home-made cards from the invitees, along with maybe a $1 gift.
(Come on, now. Let’s not be laughing at the idea of a $1 gift. Back in those days, when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House, a dollar bought a pretty decent gift. Remember, that was a time when a nickel was all a kid needed to buy a Baby Ruth candy bar as big as a railroad tie. Only the richest kid in town would have dreamed of showing up with a $2 gift, and he probably did.)
I bring up my grade-school chum’s birthday because this is Feb. 29, and I’ve always been a little fascinated by the whole notion of Leap Year. I was introduced to the concept, as I suppose most kids were, early in grade school with the whole “thirty days hath September” memory aid.
We learned that part just so we’d know how many days were in each month — an incredibly sophisticated thing to know for a kid early in the process of a formal public-school education.
Partly because of our classmate’s Feb. 29 birthday, one of our teachers went a little deeper into the business of why an extra day was added to the calendar every four years. I don’t remember her talking about the Gregorian calendar, but I remember her saying it had something to do with the earth’s movement around the sun. More important, I remember her saying if we didn’t toss in another day every four years, we’d fall way behind, and first thing we knew, Christmas would be in the middle of summer and Fourth of July would fall during blizzards.
(Now, right there was a teacher who understood her students. Gregory and his calendar wouldn’t have registered with a bunch of school kids. Christmas in a heat wave and firecrackers in the snow were concepts we could grasp.)
The teacher’s explanation set me and my classmate with the Feb. 29th birthday to thinking.
I remember us trying to calculate how many years it would take without the additional February day before the calendar did a complete circle so that the last day in February went through spring, summer, fall and most of sinter before landing again in its proper spot. We weren’t that gifted, because we never did come up with the right answer.
We puzzled on it a while, but we were handicapped by lack of slide rules, calculators and computers, and probably by a lack of advanced math skills.
Were we to attempt that problem today, I don’t know what my classmate would do, but I’d go directly to Google or Bing.
I’m confident that somewhere in the mountain of responses, I’d find the answer to my question. A quick Google query just now of “Why do we have Leap Year, anyway?” produced a ton of responses. One response included the information that if we didn’t have the extra day, “We would lose almost six hours off our calendar every year. After only 100 years, our calendar would be off by approximately 24 days.”
The source I cite ended that sentence with an exclamation point. I substituted a period. I worked newspapers once with a guy named John Wooley.
He called exclamation points “scare marks,” and he said they were best saved for major, massive, incredible and shocking new information.
Consider this: As I write, a blizzard is forecast for Feb. 29.
They’re calling it a major winter storm. If we didn’t have Leap Year, the blizzard would hit on March 1, and we’d call it an early-spring storm!