Sherry Young: What do with the gift of an extra day?

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

We have an extra day in the month of February on Wednsday. It's a much better deal than daylight-saving time, because instead of just an hour we get a whole day.

We didn't notice the tiny increments adding up for our gift day; now what will we do with it?

Many years ago in a country far far away (that would be the British Isles and other countries in Europe) it became a tradition that on Leap Year a woman had permission to ask a man to marry her.

Seriously!

Society was so rigidly structured that a woman would commit social suicide if she were to be that bold at any other time. Societal rules of courtship were much stricter, and it was only every four years, during Leap Year, and sometimes only on Leap Day, that a woman would dare such a bold venture.

There were various rules from area to area that needed to be followed when a man refused that offer.

Some were to compensate the woman with 12 pairs of gloves. Others were levied a fine, or required to give them what they requested, from a silk dress to jewelry — or if he got lucky — just a kiss.

The Greeks didn't hold with the theory. Instead they felt it a bad sign and avoided marriage in a leap year fearing it would bring bad luck.

Sounds silly in our day and age, but those were the rules.

The people born on Leap Day are termed "leaplings" or "leapers." The four-year technicality didn't bode well for Frederic, the pirate apprentice in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance. He found he had signed on until his 21st birthday, not when he turned 21. Of course in real life, instead of a comic opera, this doesn't happen as the birthday is counted each year.

All of these ideas started because somewhere far back in time some very smart person figured out an extra day every four years was needed in order to keep the calendar year synchronized.

Because in a solar year the exact number of days is slightly less than 365.25, they realized that if a day wasn't added it would only be a matter of time before spring would become winter, winter the fall and so on.

There are other ways cultures have adapted. For instance, in the Hebrew calendar they add a 13th month seven times in 19 years to the 12 lunar months.

Seems a bit more complicated — that's probably why we adhere to the Gregorian calendar.

The author and poet Walter De La Mare wrote a poem about Leap Day:

"Sweet February Twenty-Nine!

This is our grace-year, as I live

Quick, now! This foolish heart of mine;

Seize they prerogative!"

The poem makes me wonder if he was encouraging some young lass to grab her man or to advise us that we are always wishing for one more day and this year we got one.

What are you going to do with your extra day tomorrow if you're not planning to ask someone to marry you?

You could rent the chick flick "Leap Year" for a bit of romance in your life, go skiing, read a book instead of cleaning a closet.

Actually, I bet you will do what I likely will do, go about as if it is any other day.

But where's the fun in that? It's a gift day.

We really should at least steal a few minutes to do something we've wished we had time to do.

As long as it's legal of course.

Email: sasyoung2@aol.com

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