Leaping into the name game
Blame Julie and Greg.
Julius Caesar (you know, from “a thousand times I told him, ‘Julie, don’t go’”) was the first person to introduce a leap day, trying to get the calendar the Romans used in 45 BC to get back on course with what nature was doing.
He brought in the Julian calendar (three guesses who it was named after) that year, which added one extra day every every four years, and was assassinated the following year, but I don’t think the two were connected.
That Julian calendar worked pretty well for about two millennia, but then it was noticed it was also just a bit out of step with what the sun and the other heavenly bodies were doing, so in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that while the Julian calendar was close, it needed a minor tweak, so he decreed that a year ending in 00 (a century year) was not a leap year unless it was evenly divisible by 400. The new calendar, called the Gregorian calendar (notice a naming trend here?) wasn’t immediately latched onto by all concerned. Great Britain, for instance, held out until 1752, while Lithuania used the Julian calendar until 1915.
Pope Gregory’s change won’t mean much to most of us, since the odds are we won’t be around to see 2100, the next century year and a non-leap year.
But the change Caesar made is why today is such a strange day. February 29 only comes around every four years (OK, not exactly, but close enough), and it raises a few questions.
For instance, where did the tradition start that women were allowed to propose marriage to men on Feb. 29? The most accepted story is that the Irish St. Brigid suggested the idea to St. Patrick, to balance the traditional roles of men and women the way the leap day balanced the calendar.
In the Middle Ages, according to some sources, a man who refused a woman’s proposal was required to buy her a gift, usually gloves or a dress.
Being born on February 29 leads to some interesting ways of looking at things. For instance, it could be argued that Henri Richard joined the Montrel Canadiens before his fifth birthday, retired before his 10th birthday and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame before his 11th.
Likewise, Gioacchino Rossini composed The Barber of Seville before he reached his seventh birthday and William Tell before his 10th.
Other famous people who could, theoretically, only celebrate a birthday every four years include orchestra leader Jimmy Dorsey, science-fiction writer Anne McKillip (Riddlemaster of Hed) and rapper Ja Rule.
So if you happen to know someone who was born on Feb. 29, make sure and wish him a happy birthday, It could be four years before you’ll know for sure what day to do it on next.
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Just as a reminder, I’ll be at the Strike Zone on Sunday, March 4, between 2 and 4 p.m. for the Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser. If you’re interested in making my experience less embarrassing by making a pledge, you can go to www.pgbbbs.ca and follow the links.