Today's the day the calendar 'leaps' to catch up

February 29, 2004|JIM LOGAN

This is a bissextile day, and not because it's attracted to both Sundays and Mondays. No, that's just a fancy word for a more straightforward event: Leap Day, when we add a day to February to make sure our calendar and the sun are on the same page.

This is a Leap Year, of course, an odd bit of creative accounting done to reconcile the fact that a solar year is really 365 1/4 days. Without an extra day thrown in every four years, we would have calendar chaos - not enough to lose track of April 15, perhaps, but surely somebody, somewhere would be horrified.

Despite its relative rarity, Leap Year has the cachet of a dentist appointment.

Wander around the Web and you'll find enough interesting tidbits to last maybe two cocktail party conversations - three if you're long-winded and your audience is patient.

For example, this is the traditional day when women can propose to men. It supposedly started in 5th-century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that men were, surprise, slow to commit. So he decreed that women could pop the question every four years on Leap Day.


The custom became law in Scotland in 1288. Men who declined a proposal had to pay a fine, ranging from a kiss to paying for an item of clothing. One could argue they got off cheap.

In this country we have Sadie Hawkins Day, although it has nothing to do with Leap Year. It refers to a character in the old "Li'l Abner" comic strip. Sadie was "the homeliest gal in the hills" and pursued the men of Dogpatch with a pathological single-mindedness.

Sadie Hawkins Day debuted in the strip on Nov. 15, 1937. Its signature event was a footrace in which single men got a head start and were then chased by presumably desperate, unattractive women. Any guy slow enough to get caught was subject to an immediate shotgun wedding. It gave new meaning to "survival of the fittest" and likely ensured Dogpatch would produce generations of slow, homely children.

This was not a problem for Mother Ann Lee and her Shakers, who founded Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.

Unfortunately, Lee, a Leap Day baby born in 1736, demanded celibacy of her followers, who produced no further Leap Day children.

The Greeks, meanwhile, believe it's bad luck to marry during a Leap Year, and as many as 20 percent of Greeks go out of their way to schedule their weddings for "regular" years.

None of this should suggest that Leap Day is without ardent fans. For those born on Feb. 29, it's a chance to celebrate their birthday in style. They had, after all, gone three years without a proper birthday.

This being the digital age, "Leapers," as some like to be called, have taken to the Internet to proclaim the pride and plight of their birthdays.

One of the most popular Web sites is, which is bursting with all things leapy. In it you'll find such topics as Leap-themed names, advice for parents of Leap kids, a virtual Leap Year museum, Leap tattoos, statistics on Leapers, public Leap parties across the country, appeals to bring back Leap Year Balls - you name it.

And, to complete the experience, you'll get a little attitude.

"If you're a journalist, I double-dog dare ya to write about this!" writes Raenell Dawn, the Leaper who runs the site. "It's time. LEAP HAPPENS. And it's now."

So it is. Happy birthday. See you in four years.

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