It’s my day!

The Beatle’s said it best “Today is your birthday”. I turned 12 today, which to many of you explains a lot. I have always tried to celebrate Feb. 29th with something special since it comes around only every four years. I looked back at the last three birthdays and found that they were just like the rest. Maybe getting older has something to do with it but hey, I’m still having birthdays and that is always a good thing. I did a little research today about my day after I read in the newspaper this morning that you have a 1 in 2 million chance of having a birthday today (they are never wrong!). It’s actually closer to 1:1500.

The leap year’s extra day is necessary because of our Solar System. One Earth year does not take an exact number of whole days, it takes 365.2422 days, plus or minus. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar came to power that changes were made. People observed a 355-day calendar – with an extra 22-day month every two years. This was not an solution to the celestial problem since feast days began sliding into different seasons. So Caesar ordered his astronomer, Sosigenes, to simplify things. Sosigenes opted for the 365-day year with an extra day every four years to scoop up the extra hours. This is how the 29th day in February was born. It was then fine-tuned by Pope Gregory XIII. Check this out:

Every fourth year is a leap year, as a rule of thumb. But that’s not the end of the story. A year that is divisible by 100, but not by 400, is not. So 2000 was a leap year, as was 1600. But 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years. “It seems a bit arbitrary,” says Ian Stewart, emeritus professor of mathematics at Warwick University. But there’s a good reason behind it. “The year is 365 days and a quarter long – but not exactly. If it was exactly, then you could say it was every four years. But it is very slightly less.” The answer arrived at by Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers when they introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582, was to lose three leap days every 400 years. The math has hung together ever since. It will need to be rethought in about 10,000 years’ time, Stewart warns. But by then mankind might have come up with a new system.

Why is February 29, not February 31, a leap year day? All the other months have 30 or 31 days, but February suffered because of the ego of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Under Julius Caesar, February had 30 days, but when Caesar Augustus was emperor he was upset that his month – August – had only 29 days.  Compare this to the month named after his predecessor Julius – July –, which had had 31. “He pinched a couple of days for August to make it the same as July. And it was poor old February that lost out,” says Prof Stewart.

So today, I find myself working from my office at home – alone; until I opened my e-mail to find birthday wishes from friends and family I have all over the country. Some people that you might only hear from once or twice a year but I realized that I wasn’t alone. I am thankful to be alive today and thought of by so many people. What better gift to get on your birthday than to know that you are being thought of? Thanks for making this a great day!

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