February 29, 2020
Day 60 of 366
February 29th is the sixtieth day of the year. Happy Leap Day!
It is Bachelor’s Day in Ireland, an old tradition on Leap Day where women take the lead in initiating dances and proposing marriage. If the proposal was refused the man was expected to buy the woman a silk gown, a fur coat, or (in the United Kingdom) a new pair of gloves on Easter Day. The tradition supposedly originates from a deal that Saint Bridget struck with Saint Patrick.
In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Time Refund Day and Rare Disease Day. That last one is typically observed on the last day of February.
Historical items of note:
- In 1720, Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden abdicated in favor of her husband, who became King Frederick I less than a month later.
- In 1796, the Jay Treaty between the United States and Great Britain began ten years of peaceful trade between the two nations.
- In 1892, St. Petersburg, Florida was incorporated.
- In 1904, bandleader Jimmy Dorsey was born.
- In 1916, South Carolina raised the minimum working age for factory, mill, and mine workers from twelve to fourteen years old.
- Also in 1916, singer and actress Dinah Shore was born.
- In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award. It was for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind.
- In 1964, Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser set a new world record in the 100-meter freestyle swimming competition of 58.9 seconds.
- In 1968, author and illustrator Howard Tayler was born.
- In 1996, the Seige of Sarajevo ended. It was the longest siege of a capital city in history, spanning three years, 10 months, three weeks and three days. That’s three times longer than the Battle of Stalingrad and more than a year longer than the Siege of Leningrad.
Leap Day is added to solar calendars in most years that are divisible by four. In the Gregorian calendar, years that are divisible by 100, but not by 400, do not contain a leap day.
Lunisolar calendars, whose months are based on the phases of the Moon, use leap (intercalary) month instead. In the Chinese calendar, this day will only occur in years of the monkey, dragon, and rat.
The purpose of the leap day is to compensate for the Earth’s period of orbital revolution around the Sun. We use the shorthand of one year equating to 365 days, but the orbital period is really 365 days and six hours long. The leap compensates for this lag since otherwise, seasons would occur later than intended in the calendar year.
The Julian calendar added a leap day every four years, but because of how that calendar was structured, that added too many days. This addition of approximately 3 days every 400 years shifted equinoxes and solstices shift to earlier dates. The Gregorian calendar was introduced both to shift these dates back by omitting several days, and to reduce the number of leap years via the “century rule” to keep the equinoxes more or less fixed and the date of Easter consistently close to the vernal equinox.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
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