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Should We Do Away With Leap Years?

Should We Do Away With Leap Years?

February 29th is Leap Day in 2020. Ever wonder why we have Leap Days and Leap Years at all? It all starts with a little history of our calendars.

How Leap Years Began

Leap Day is an artifact that dates back to 46 BC when Julius Caesar took the advice of the learned astronomer, Sosigenes of Alexandria, who knew from Egyptian experience that it took 365.25 days for the Earth to circle once around the Sun (known as a tropical year or solar year). So to account for that residual quarter of a day, an extra day—known as leap day—was added to the calendar every four years. This new “Julian” calendar was used throughout the Roman Empire and by various Christian churches. At that time, February was the last month of the year.

Initially, in order to make a proper transition from the Roman calendar (which had 355 days and which was basically a lunar calendar) to the Julian calendar and get the months and various feasts and holidays back into their normal seasons, ninety extra days were inserted into the year 46 BC. Caesar divided the ninety extra days into three temporary months.

One month was added between February and March. Two other months (Intercalaris Prior and Intercalaris Posterior) were added after November. The end result was a year that was fifteen months and 445 days long, and was nicknamed Annus Confusionus, “Year of Confusion.”

Then, to honor his contribution to timekeeping, Caesar later renamed the fifth month (formerly known as Quintilis) after himself (July).

The Julian Calendar

The Julian calendar worked so well at first that many countries adopted it. Unfortunately, it was flawed, being .0078 of a day (about 11 minutes and 14 seconds) longer than the tropical year. So, the Julian calendar introduced an error of one day every 128 years, which meant that every 128 years the tropical year shifts one day backward with respect to the calendar. This made the method for calculating the dates for Easter inaccurate.

So by the year 1582 – thanks to the overcompensation of observing too many leap years – the calendar had fallen out of step with the solar year by a total of 10 days. It was then that Pope Gregory XIII stepped in and, with the advice of a German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer, Christopher Clavius, produced our current “Gregorian” calendar.

Building A Better Calendar

First, to catch things up, ten days were omitted after Thursday, October 4, making the next day Friday, October 15. Unfortunately, for many, this edict was most unpopular; it was as if ten days had been taken from people’s lives. There were riots in the streets and workers demanded their ten days pay (forgetting conveniently, that they hadn’t worked those ten days)! Thankfully, all this “calendrical flak” eventually died down.

Next, to more closely match the length of the tropical year, century-years, which in the old Julian calendar would have been leap years, were not added. The exceptions were those century years equally divisible by 400, not just 4.

And that’s why the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.

Slow To Catch On?

The Gregorian calendar, however, was not adopted by the American Colonies until 1752. And that’s why George Washington was not born on Washington’s Birthday.

In our time we celebrate Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd. Well, that’s correct if you mean on the Gregorian calendar, but George was born 20 years before the Colonies switched over from the old Julian calendar. And when George was born, the error in the Julian calendar had increased to 11 days.

So, if there was a calendar hanging on the wall where the Father of our Country was born, it would have read: February 11th, 1732.

And if you think the twenty years that it took American Colonies to finally ratify the Gregorian calendar was a long time, that was nothing compared to Russia, who finally accepted calendar reformation in 1918. And Greece held out even longer—all the way to 1923!

Should We Change It Again?

The Gregorian calendar has proven to be far superior to the Julian calendar in that over a span of one year it runs 26 seconds too fast, but that’s an error so slight that it will not be necessary to eliminate a day from the calendar until around the year 5300.

Still, some would like to see our calendar changed yet again. One of the more popular proposals is the World Calendar created by Elisabeth Achelis of The World Calendar Association, in 1930. It consists of 364 days. The year would be divided up into four quarters, each quarter consisting of three months. The first month of each new quarter (January, April, July and October) would have 31 days and would always begin on a Sunday. All the remaining months would have just 30 days.

In such a set-up, each date would fall on the same day of the week every year. So if your birthday fell on a Tuesday, it would always fall on a Tuesday. Independence Day would always fall on a Wednesday; Christmas Day would be a Monday and Thanksgiving would finally have a fixed date: November 23rd, since the fourth Thursday in November on the World Calendar would always be on that date.

Triskaidekaphobes (those who are superstitious of the number 13) likely would not like this new setup; it would mean we’d see four Friday the 13ths per year (currently, the maximum number for any given year is three)!

But wait! This is a 364-day calendar. What happened to day 365? And what about Leap Years?

December 31st would be recognized as “Worldsday” (a World Holiday). It would come between Saturday, the 30th, and Sunday, January 1st of the New Year. As for Leap Years, the extra day would be inserted not at the end of February as we are doing now, but at the end of June. June 31st would thus become a second World Holiday, but like the Olympics, celebrated every four years.

In the January 17, 2016 issue of Parade magazine, Marilyn von Savant answered a question from a reader who wanted to know if there was a “less clunky” system to our present calendar.

Marilyn alluded to the Symmetry454 calendar, a perennial solar calendar that conserves the traditional 7-day week, has symmetrical equal quarters, and starts every month on Monday. All holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. are permanently fixed. All ordinal day and week numbers within the year are also permanently fixed; Friday the 13th never occurs under this calendar.

“But there’s a teensy drawback,” notes Marilyn. “Every five or six years, you would have to add a week at the end of December!”

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  • David Velador says:

    It’s my birthday, I won’t have one anymore if you take it away😬

  • Karen Johnson says:

    Leave well enough alone! It’s worked all these years. Quit trying to change things that don’t need changing!

  • V says:

    This is so educational! I love it!

  • Kevan says:

    Leave the calendar alone, but alter the 24 hour day of hours and minutes to 360 x 4 minute units. Four minutes x 360 (the number of degrees in a circle, one degree of Earth’s rotation equals one [whatever]) equals a current 24 hour period, or one daily orbit of the planet. All current watches and clocks could become museum pieces, including Big Ben. The four minute unit could be divided into tenths, hundredths, thousands, etc. Just a thought!

  • Jan Hayes says:

    I agree with Jenni Kohl (I didn’t read any others). Leave the calendar alone. Its worked for us. Please let ALL time be known as Daylight Savings Time. Keep it there.

  • Jenni Kohl says:

    Leave leap year alone, it there for a reason. I definitely don’t want to add a week in September every ten years. Talk about confusing. Plus December is long enough. Lol. As far as DLST leave it alone also, even though I do not like 4:30 sunsets in the winter I do like 9:30 in the summer. Plus it will be dark when my Grandbabies are waiting for the bus. I year in Az and I hated it when the summer sun went down at 8:30.

  • Megan says:

    Please keep the leap year because it tell us who dies after Leap year and we haven’t had for 2 years so keep the leap year but change the daylight saving time back in June and September

  • Doris Sweet says:


  • Bev says:

    Yes, I would have no birth date to celebrate! Please keep February 29th as it is!

  • Mark Fisher says:

    Nothing better than staying on “saving time” all year long, especially in the winter, when you have that “additional hour” to get to early morning appointments, and to unfinished shopping in the late evening. I’ve been doing it for thirty years. If someone asks me the time in the winter months, I just subtract an hour from my watch before giving it. If anything, keep the saving time in the summer, and, have even more of it over the winter months.

  • Johnny says:

    I am in line with the the other sixty four people,leave the calendar alone,and defently do away with DLT.its so easy to miss setting the AM and Pm on the clock.

  • CRW says:

    I say leave good things alone. Leave the calendar the way it is, people are used to it. Also I think we should stop falling back our time and leave it the way it is in the spring or if you want a compromise why not do a half hour on each end and then leave it be from then on. We mess with things too much leave good things alone! 🙂

  • Kev says:

    I’m sorry some of you hate Daylight Saving Time, I can’t wait for it!!!! I love being able to come home after work and do some yard work so I can have my weekends for my boating activities !!! Are y’all just lazy??? Have too many clocks to re-set??? Come folks, leave it alone please, quit messing with time honored traditions ! OK, I said it

  • Cas says:

    I don’t like changing the clocks back in the fall . I say turn them ahead in the spring and leave it.

  • sally says:

    I see only two people appear to like daylight savings. I do like it, and think when we move our clocks ahead next March, then just keep it permanently and don’t go back to standard time in November. What’s wrong with that concept?

  • Leap Year Baby says:

    I will be 19 Birthdays Old in 2020. I hope I will live to see 21. I am just an ordinary person, but my Birthday always made me feel special. My father will be 100 Years Old in 2020. NOW, this is really Special!

    My Mom, kiddingly would say, “I do not have to buy you a gift this year, because you do not have a Birthday.” I soon figured-it-out, and added a response, “I was born on the last day of February!” concluding, no one was going to get away that easy. Later I claimed March 1st., smugly saying, “I would have been born the 1st day in March.” I figured, I will give them a choice and hope I made my case.

    When I met my husband, I had my story ready when he would tease me. Playing along with the scenario, I would lead him to think it should be the 28th. On March 1st., I would say it was my Birthday, as if we didn’t celebrate enough the day before. Devious Maybe? Well so be it, I had a lifetime of dinner-out and a gift or a hand made card and fast food. Always Special, Always Fun! THE END

  • PEGGY MASTIN says:

    Keep Leap Year and do away with DST. That’s the one that messes with everything.

  • GAIL T DAVIS says:

    I don’t (personally) think Leap Year is a problem, but I’m not fond of messing with the clock. I don’t like the way it gets dark so early in the Winter.

  • Art Gales says:

    The only way to get rid of leap years is to change how long a second would… You would have to divide the actual amount of time is in a day by what would be new hours and second… Or just use the Calendar that JRR Tolkien created in the Hobbie…

  • Jamie says:

    I say leave it alone we don’t do very well with change. And get rid of DST please

  • Joan says:

    Keep Leap Year. The calendar is fine just as it is. And get rid of DST. I hate it.

  • Phil says:

    I’m glad to see that so many people feel the same way I do about DST. Get rid it!!

  • Mary says:

    Leave Leap Year alone. Get rid of Daylight Savings Time.

  • PCA says:

    I personally feel like we are losing so much of our past…actual history, the old ways…I say keep it. Or move it to a museum because it’s not politically correct or offends various groups. Just my two cents…

  • Joe says:

    Doesn’t matter how many ya’s and nays there are here or anywhere else, it will never change in our lifetime, but I guess it interesting to see opinions. As for me change is good.

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