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1996: Leap year turns traditions topsy-turvy

The Story


Every four years, the shortest month gets an extra day - and in bygone times, women got a rare chance to pop the question. There's plenty of lore surrounding Feb. 29, a day that keeps the calendar aligned with the seasons. In 1288, a Scottish law was passed that allowed women to propose marriage on Feb. 29 only. More recently, recalls the guest in this CBC radio clip, Feb. 29 was known as "TWIRP Day" - The Woman Is Required to Pay.

Medium: Radio
Program: Metro Morning
Broadcast Date: Feb. 29, 1996
Guest: Phillip Hiscock
Host: Andy Barrie
Duration: 6:12

Did You know?


• The Romans were the first society to create leap years by adding a day to their calendar every four years. Known as the Julian calendar, it was named for Julius Caesar, the emperor who decreed it in 46 BC.

• A solar year (the length of time it takes for the earth to orbit the sun) equals 365.2422 days, slightly more than the 365 days in the calendar. Adding one day every four years almost made up for the difference.

• With the extra day, the solar calendar equalled 365.25 days, which was just slightly too long. By the 16th century, there was an accumulated discrepancy of 10 days since the days of Julius Caesar. This created a problem when determining dates for holy days such as Easter, which was calculated using the vernal equinox. According to the calendar, the equinox happened on March 21, but in astronomical terms it had actually happened many days earlier.

• To address the problem, Pope Gregory the 13th issued an edict in 1582 to create the Gregorian calendar. By his decree, a leap year would take place every four years unless it was a year divisible by 100. The only exception was if the year was also divisible by 400.

• Therefore, the year 1900 was not a leap year, and neither will 2100 be one. The year 2000 was a leap year.

• The Gregorian calendar was immediately adopted in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Catholic parts of Germany. Ten days were dropped that year: Oct. 4 was immediately followed by Oct. 15. People rioted over the change, concerned that landlords were trying to cheat them by shortening the month.

• The rest of the Christian world adopted the Gregorian calendar over the next few centuries. Despite popular belief, riots were not widespread in Britain in 1752 when 11 days were dropped in September.

• As of 2006 the Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar.

• The Russian and Serbian Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar. Therefore, they celebrate Christmas later than everyone else - on January 7.

• Both the Russians and the Iranians use a calendar that is even more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. However, it will be several thousand years before they become unsynchronized.

• Other cultures and religions use different calendars. The Chinese and Hebrew calendars are based on 12 lunar (moon-cycle) months, adding a 13th lunar month every few years to keep things synchronized.

• The Islamic calendar is on a 12-month lunar cycle. Therefore, an Islamic year is 354.36 days. This is why the holy month of Ramadan is never at the same time each year.

• On Feb. 29, 1984, Pierre Trudeau announced his decision to step down as Liberal leader and prime minister. He made the decision during his famous walk in the snow.

• People born on Feb. 29 are sometimes known as "leapers." Generally, they mark their birthdays on Feb. 28 or March 1 in non-leap years, and some have an extra special celebration every four years.

• Approximately one person in 1,461 was born on Feb. 29, meaning there are about four million such people around the world.

• In 1988 the border town of Anthony, Texas/New Mexico celebrated the first World Wide Leap Year Festival. Resident Mary Ann Brown, who was born on Feb. 29, spearheaded the idea and successfully campaigned to have the town named the world's leap year capital.


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