Leap Away

T omorrow is Leap Day, which occurs every four years.

Or does it? Leap Day’s history entails what may be a mental leap: Though no one alive today has experienced it, and the majority of us never will, there are so-called “Leap Years” in which we actually skip over Leap Day. To experience the missing Leap Day, you would have had to have been alive in 1900, or you’ll have to make it to 2100.

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The reason Leap Day appears every four years is to correct for the fact that a single trip of the Earth around the Sun doesn’t divide evenly into days. Each year is approximately 365.2422 days long. So, every four years we add a day. But that’s an overcorrection. In order to put us back on track, every 100 years on the century mark we take back Leap Day. We skip it.

So, what happened in 2000? Didn’t we include February 29 on the calendar then? Yes. Because every fourth century, we have to add Leap Day back in. It’s a scientific seesaw we’ve created to make our calendar work.

New Haveners of 1900 appear to have taken this quirk in stride. A story buried on the bottom of page 8 of the Daily Morning Journal and Courier on January 15 of that year, reprinted from the London Globe, explained the phenomenon. It wasn’t mentioned again.

The Egyptians were the first to create a leap year system in order to bridge the disconnect between days and years in a solar-based calendar, but it’s Roman Julius Caesar who gets the credit for the idea of a leap day every four years. Before instituting it, he mandated the Year of Confusion in 46 B.C., a year of 445 days, in order to correct the calendrical mess that had built up. Of course, his leap days didn’t entirely solve the problem, so in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII dropped 10 days from that October and instituted the rules we live by today.

Not everyone went with the Gregorian calendar right away. It wasn’t until 1752 that England—and, thus, New Haven’s colonial forbears—finally adopted it. In order to get with the program, 1751 was a shortened year of just 282 days, and 11 more days were dropped from September of 1752. Calendar reform was reportedly a hot topic in the 1754 elections, though claims of actual “calendar riots” are probably just an urban myth, the website Historic UK says.

In the end, these details might be worthy of a page 8 shrug to most of us. But there’s one group whose hearts leap upon the arrival of February 29. Among them is Hamdenite Mark Osenko, who was born on February 29, 1980. “There are very few [of us], so it’s definitely fun to have that birthday,” he says, adding that in his 40 years he can only recall meeting about five other people with the same birthday. One was a classmate from childhood, another a woman he met in a restaurant one February 28, who was also celebrating her Leap Day birthday.

The 28th is Osenko’s default date to celebrate, though he says his mother always argued it should have been March 1 instead, presumably because she was still very much pregnant on February 28, 1980. When Leap Year rolls around and Osenko gets a real birthday, it’s extra special, he says—better than an ordinary one. And this year, there’s a bonus: “It’s always nice when it falls on a weekend.” The last time that happened was 2004, when Leap Day fell on a Sunday.

This Leap Day, you’ll find 10 “lords” a-leaping when the Yale Bulldogs take on Princeton in men’s basketball tomorrow night. The Peabody Museum’s leaping lizards are coming apart bone by bone for their restoration, but leap frogs are still on view through June 30—poison dart frogs, to be precise—in the museum’s Discovery Room. Looking to make a leap of faith? Choose from 100-plus churches, about a dozen synagogues, five mosques, three Hindu temples and other places of worship in greater New Haven. For a quantum leap, you’ll have to wait until late March for Quantum Week at the Yale Quantum Institute.

We can’t recommend a literal lover’s leap, but if you don’t mind leaving town, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Lovers Leap State Park in New Milford, where you can give the leaping a rest and take a hike. Or you could simply make a Leap Day donation to LEAP (Leadership, Education & Athletics in Partnership), a homegrown New Haven nonprofit with free afterschool and summer programs for children. Its mission is to “develop the strengths and talents of young leaders who create and implement year-round, community and school-based programs designed to achieve positive outcomes for children living in high-poverty urban neighborhoods,” its website says.

And now it’s time to leap to a conclusion. However you choose to spend your Leap Day, we say: Leap away.

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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