Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 26, 2004

Leap before you look

This coming Sunday - Leap Day - is an almost once-every-four-years occurrence. Although some might complain that it's just one more day in the dreary month of February, I look at it as a bonus - a day to celebrate. I don't know what form that celebration might take, but I'm sure I'll think of something. If I can't come up with ideas on my own, I can always turn to the Internet for inspiration.

Web sites are full of information about Feb. 29 - ranging from very scientific explanations as to why we need Leap Day to keep our calendar on track, to bits of trivia on who was born and what events occurred on this date throughout history.

Some version of the rhyme we learned as kids helps us remember how many days each month, including February, has:

"Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one
excepting February alone:
Which hath twenty-eight, in fine,
'til LeapYear gives it twenty-nine."

The ditties the girls, Art and I learned varied somewhat from that one, but they still did the trick.

Our solar year - the time required for the Earth to travel around the sun - is 365.242190 days. Our calendar year is either 365 days in non-leap years or 366 days in leap years, when we add Leap Day.

According to information at, the original Roman 355-day calendar had an extra 22-day month every few years to maintain the correct seasonal changes. By the time Julius Caesar took reign, the seasons no longer occurred during the same months they once had. He remedied this in 46 B.C. by throwing out the extra month and adding an extra day to a few months instead. For good measure, he also named a month in honor of himself - Julius (July). The calendar was changed again, first from an extra day every three years to one every four years, in 8 A.D. It was then modified again by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. He determined that leap days should not occur in years ending in 00 unless they were also divisible by 400.

Only one in 1,461 people is born on Feb. 29. Some Web sites recommend special parties and menus for leapers - those born on that date. Frog legs and grasshopper pie seem to be top choices for food. The Honor Society of Leap Day Babies encourages leapers to join, and it even has a "leapzine."

I don't know anyone born on Feb. 29, but Art's son Matt and his Uncle Art share Feb. 28 birthdays. Uncle Art thought he was a Leap Day baby until he applied for a passport at the age of 65 and found out his birthday was one day shy of giving him this special status.

A few of the famous people born on this date include:

1736 - Ann Lee (Mother Ann), founder of Shakerism in the United States

1792 - Gioacchino Rossini, composer of the opera, "The Barber of Seville"

1904 - Jimmy Dorsey, band leader

1924 - Al Rosen, Cleveland Indians third baseman

1936 - Jack Lousma, astronaut

1948 - Al Clark, football player

1972 - Antonio Sabato, Jr., actor

The History Channel site lists the following events which occurred on Feb. 29:

1288 - Scotland established this day as one when a woman could propose marriage to a man. The idea originated in Ireland in the fifth century when St. Bridget convinced St. Patrick to allow one day when a woman could propose marriage. Sadie Hawkins Day is a modern-day spin-off.

1860 - The first electric tabulating machine - the forerunner of the calculator - was invented by Herman Hollerith.

1932 - Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers teamed up to record "Shine."

1940- Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to win an Oscar. She won best supporting actress for her role as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind."

1964 - The United States was in the grip of Beatlemania. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was in its fifth week at number 1 on the pop charts.

What I do Leap Day probably won't be on the History Channel and it won't be a chart topper either. But whatever I do, I plan to enjoy it. Maybe I'll even take a chance on something totally off the wall and leap before I look!

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