Brownielocks and The 3 bears
present

The History of 

(and February 29th Leap Year Day)
+
Cartoon Fun.

 

Most of us are told that a calendar year is 365 days.  In reality, it actually takes the earth a little longer to complete it's trip around the sun. How long?  It takes five hours, forty-eight minutes and forty-five seconds longer. 

Back in 45 B.C. E.,  Julius Caesar proposed his calendar be changed to accommodate this little discrepancy by fixing the solar year at 365 days, 6 hours or 365  1/4  days.  Since 6 x 4= 24, that meant that every four years those 6 extra hours would add up to one full day.  This extra day was added to the month of February because it was the shortest month in the year already.

However, the calendar year still didn't match exactly to the astronomical year. And the discrepancy between the Julian calendar and the seasonal calendar grew to where it was 3 days off every 400  years.  So, in March 1582, Pope Gregory XIII abolished the use of the Julian (Old Style) Calendar and established the Gregorian (New Style) Calendar.  By doing this, he cancelled the 10 days and corrected the discrepancy in the length of the year.  Pope Gregory then decided that Leap Year would be eliminated from that point on in all centenary years, except those that are divisible by 400. So, 1600 was a Leap Year, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.  This Gregorian Calendar brought the solar year closer to the astronomical year and reduced the discrepancy to only 26 seconds a year.  These little 26 seconds a year won't add up to a full day until 3,323 years have gone by.  I don't think many of us in our lifetimes have to worry much about getting an extra day in yet.

So how did the term "Leap Year" come to be?  One explanation is that this additional day of February 29 did not have any legal status in the old English courts. So February 29th was "leaped over" in the records and whatever happened on that day was dated February 28th.

I'd like to add, that Leap Year Day is not Sadie Hawkins Day!  See my page on Sadie Hawkins Day!
Sadie Hawkins Day is November 15th.  Leap Year Day is February 29.  Although the theme is somewhat the same, "asking a guy to dance" vs. "asking a guy to marry you", they are not the same observances.

February 29th is often referred to as "Ladies Day."  This is because of the old tradition that women are allowed to propose marriage to men not only on Leap Year Day (2/29) but throughout the entire Leap Year.  This tradition can be traced back to an old Irish legend concerning St. Patrick and St. Bridget in the 5th Century.

Bridget complained that her nuns were upset because they never had a chance to propose marriage.  (Note: At this time, the celibacy rule in religious orders was based on personal private vows and not a requirement by the church.)  So, Patrick suggested that the women be given this privilege every 7 years.  This wasn't good enough for Bridget. She said it should be every 4 years!  So, Patrick compromised and obliged the women by saying that they could have Leap Year.  Patrick felt this showed just how passive women were expected to be in those days.  Much to his surprise, Bridget then proposed to him!  Patrick declined her proposal.  Instead he promised to give her a silk gown and a kiss.

So... in the British Isles during the Middle Ages there was an unwritten law that stated every single man who turned down a woman's proposal during Leap Year had to compensate her with a kiss plus either a silk gown or a pair of gloves.  You can imagine what good business the dressmakers and glove makers had every four years! 

Now to give the guy some warning what was up, the woman who intended to propose to a man during this time period was expected to let a red petticoat show beneath the hem of her skirt.  Similar laws soon became established all over Europe. And this custom soon became legalized throughout parts of France and Italy by the 15th Century.  It soon spread to the United States, but it's not taken seriously here. However, the tradition of requiring a man to soften the blow of his refusal of a marriage proposal by giving a kiss and a silk gown continued in Europe and the British Isles until it's demise in the 19th century.

There is another tradition that February 29th is also called "Bachelor's Day." This means, that February 29th is the only day out of the entire Leap Year that a woman can not propose to a man. Or if she does and the guy turns her down, he does not have to buy her a dress or kiss her. So, February 29th as "Bachelor's Day" is the one day out of the entire Leap Year the guys get a break from all this romance! But be careful. The girls can start proposing again on March 1st!

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003

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