Dear Dr K,
Why can’t we have the same kind of year every year? Leap years confuse me since I live alone on a desert island with no contact with the outside world and it is difficult enough to keep count of the days I have been stranded here without having to count an extra day every four years.
Can’t we do away with the concept of leap years? Orbinson Ruscoe
First, I wish to congratulate you on successfully reaching your question to me all the way from your desert island.
I found it in a bottle as I was walking along the beach this morning. Second, I would like to apologise as you will probably never read my answer, since I have absolutely no intention of putting it in a bottle and tossing it into the sea.
Third, I would like to answer your question: there is no consensus on why we have leap years once in every four years. One of the most convincing explanations is that leap years were created so that people born on the February 29 could celebrate their birthdays.
You might ask then why the February 29 doesn’t come every year: the answer is, surprisingly, that people born on the February 29 (Leapers, for short), age much slower than other people, at a quarter of the rate that other people age.
However, this slow ageing is compensated by the fact that they catch up on their birthdays by adding four years to their age overnight.
For example, I have a friend who is a Leaper.
He turned 17 years of age in 2008, but will not be eligible to vote until after his birthday this year, when he will turn 21 without having aged during the intervening years. Prior to the institution of the leap year in the Gregorian calendar, people born on February 29 were very confused about how to calculate their age.
Now they have no such worries, but unfortunately, even the leap year solution does not address the problems of those who were born on February 30, such as the famous Mr Fervor Pipravari, President of the International Calendar Council. Presidents of the International Calendar Council are supposed to retire after they reach the age of 60, but Mr Pipravari can remain the President indefinitely since he has no age. He considers this to be both a blessing and a curse.
Another popular explanation for the origin of the leap year is that it was the idea of young British womenfolk who were twiddling their thumbs waiting to get marriage proposals.
They decided that instead of waiting indefinitely to be proposed to, women should be allowed to propose to men for one year in every four.
This was hailed as a good idea by all, but some unfortunate women, despite making several proposals during the first such year, were turned down by all their suitors.
In their desperation they pled to the International Calendar Council (Mr Pipravari was the President even at that time) to add one extra day to the year so that they could make a last-ditch effort at finding a perfect husband for themselves.
Neither of these explanations is supported by much historical evidence, unfortunately, since historians have been busy researching other things, so you will just have to choose the explanation that suits you best, or make up one of your own. Or you could stop counting the extra day in leap years and see where that gets you.
I hope you get off your island soon.
Yours questionably, Dr K