Every once in a while, we are reminded that the earth, the solar system and indeed the universe in which we live is not some sort of clockwork mechanical toy ever rotating in an unchanging dance. Once every four years for instance, we get a leap day on February 29th because although our calendar is set to 365 days in a year, the earth actually takes 365.2422 days to orbit the sun.
If we didn’t adjust our calendars every four years, eventually our seasons would get out of sync with our calendar and before you know it we’d be celebrating Christmas day in July (not a bad idea according to our Australian friends). The more mathematically minded of you will have noticed that 365.2422 is not exactly 365.25 so having a leap year every four years is a bit of an over-adjustment. Therefore there is an additional rule which states that we do not have a leap year in years both divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400.
Although it’s a very sensible thing to adjust our calendar every four years, it does throw up some strange anomalies. There’s an inescapable feeling that you’re working an extra day for no extra pay. Then there are the people who are born on the 29th February - a birthday once every four years must feel quite peculiar (the chances of being born on this day is 1 in 1,461).
And then there is the tradition of women proposing marriage to men on the 29th February - a tradition that in Ireland is attributed to Saint Bridget. She is reputed to have complained to Saint Patrick that Irish women were having to wait too long for their menfolk to propose marriage, so he issued a decree allowing women to propose instead, once every four years.
As with many Irish stories, it is an entertaining and plausible tale until you realise that Bridget had reached only 10 years of age by the time Patrick died according to most sources! Whatever the truth or otherwise, the tradition has spread to many countries and for instance in Denmark if a man turns down the proposal he must give the woman 12 pairs of gloves, while fabric to make a skirt is the penalty imposed in Finland. Penalties which may not seem particularly onerous to commitment-phobic men.
Whatever you do with your extra day this year, make sure you use it wisely and to its fullest - it will be four more years before you have another chance.