5 Weird Facts About Leap Years

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Blame It On Augustus

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We owe leap years to Julius Caesar, but also to his successor, the Emperor Augustus.

The Ancient Romans used to follow a calendar that had 355 days a year, but it eventually grew hopelessly out of sync with the seasons, making it difficult to celebrate festivals at the same time each year. So in 45 BC, Julius Caesar decreed that a new, reformed calendar would be adopted that had 365 days a year, with an extra day every "leap year" in order to keep the seasons and calendar properly in sync.

However, the Roman priests who devised the new calendar initially made a mistake. They set the leap year to occur every third year. The priests realized soon enough that this wouldn't work, and in 8 BC Emperor Augustus officially corrected the calendar so that leap years came every fourth year.

So Caesar can take credit for leap years in general, but the four-year tradition is Augustus.

And have you ever wondered why February is shorter than every other month? That's also because of Augustus. The Roman Senate, to honor him, renamed the month of Sextilis as Augustus (August). But originally August was only 30 days long, and this was a problem because Julius Caesar's month (July) was 31 days long. It wouldn't do for Augustus to have a shorter month than Caesar!

To make August as long as July they borrowed a day from February, reducing it from 30 days during a leap year to only 29, and 28 days every other year. This permanently left February as the odd, shortened month that it is.

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The Extra Day Swindle

In February 1997, John Melo was convicted of home invasion and sentenced to ten years and one day in prison. Seven years later, he filed a motion complaining that the Department of Correction had miscalculated the length of his sentence. Why? Because it had failed to credit him for the additional days he had to serve on account of the February 29's during leap years. 

Melo's motion was allowed, but he didn't win the case. In 2006 the Superior Court ruled (Commonwealth vs. John Melo) that not only did his case have no merit, but it had been a mistake to ever allow it to proceed in the first place, noting that he had clearly been sentenced to a term of years, no matter how long each year may be.

Melo may not have had a compelling case. However, it is true that the extra day in February can be somewhat unfair. For instance, if you're a salaried employee you essentially have to work an extra day for free during a leap year, whereas hourly employees get an extra payday. Similarly, banks often don't include February 29 when they calculate the interest they owe their customers, thereby giving themselves an extra bonus day of profit at everyone else's expense.

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Leap Year Capital of the World

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 In 1988, the town of Anthony, Texas, with a population of 8000, declared itself to be the "Leap Year Capital of the World." 

Its justification for this title was that two members of its Chamber of Commerce were born on leap year days. But in a moment of honesty a member of the Chamber also admitted that, "We just voted arbitrarily to name this as the leap year capital of the world because no one else has."

As of 2016, the town of Anthony continues to pride itself on being the Leap Year Capital, with festivities planned for February 29.

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Leap Year Mother and Daughter

On February 29, 2008, Michelle Birnbaum of Saddle River, New Jersey gave birth to her daughter, Rose. What made this unusual was that Michelle herself was also a "leapling," having been born on February 29, 1980. 

The odds of a child being born on February 29 are 1 in 1641. However, the odds of both a mother and daughter sharing that birthday are somewhere in the range of 2 million to one. [NorthJersey.com, 2/24/2012]

Though quite long, those odds are still much better than the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery — approximately 292 million to one.

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Happy Aldrin Day!

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Over the years, would-be calendar reformers have proposed many alternative ways of dividing up the year. Often these plans would give special status to the leap day.

For instance, in July 1989 Jeff Siggins published an article in Omni Magazine proposing that the Gregorian Calendar be scrapped and replaced by his "Tranquility Calendar."

This would be a scientifically-based calendar that would set July 20, 1969 (when humans first landed on the Moon in the Sea of Tranquility) as Day Zero. All years after that would be referred to as "After Tranquility" (AT). So, as of February 2016, we are in the year 46 AT.

Siggins would rename the months after famous scientists — such as Archimedes, Copernicus, Darwin, etc. — and he would designate the leap day as Aldrin Day, after the astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Taking a more mystical approach, Randy Bruner, a Cincinnati psychic, came up with the Dreamspell Calendar based on the Mayan Calendar. His system would transform the leap day into a "Day out of time," which means it wouldn't be included as a day of the week. It would be a non-day when people could "celebrate time is art." [What exactly does that mean? Your guess is as good as mine.]

One of the most popular alternative calendar systems of the 20th Century was the World Calendar, created by Elisabeth Achelis of Brooklyn, New York in 1930. It would have shifted February 29 to June 31 and made it a world holiday. 

Finally, we here at weirdnews.about.com would like to propose that February 29 be designated as Official Weird Day — in honor of all things that don't quite fit in.