Leap into the fray of a special year

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2012 - 4:33 PM

2012 is a leap year, which may be good for marriage proposals, but also for making the most of life.

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Lee Hulteng, MCT

Photo: Lee Hulteng, MCT

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Can a leap year save marriage? Recent studies say that wedding rates are falling like a bridesmaid's tears, but along comes 2012, when women (according to ancient tradition) can propose to men.

Some say this "privilege" is available only on Feb. 29 -- the extra day added every four years to the usual 365 to keep the calendar in sync with the Earth's orbit of the sun. Others contend that the whole year is up for grabs.

This, perhaps, is what led to the rule that a proposing woman is expected to wear a red petticoat (girls, ask your grandmother what this is) in order to give a man some warning as to what's afoot.

If a man refuses, he must compensate the woman with either 12 pairs of gloves, a silk gown, a kiss (yeah, right), fabric to make a dress or payment of a fine.

That's tradition for you. Better to stick with the astronomical aspects.

A mathematical marvel

Here's why we have a leap year in the first place, as determined by some deeply investigative Googling: The Earth actually takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds to orbit the sun. That's about a quarter-day more than our calendars allot. The ancient Egyptians came up with the idea of adding an extra day every four years.

This got even more complicated when someone realized that adding a leap day actually was a little too much correction, and came up with the idea of nixing the extra day on turn-of-the-century years not evenly divisible by 400. In other words, 2000 was a leap year, but 1900 wasn't. (To learn more, go online to www.infoplease.com/spot/leapyear2.html.)

In any case, people born on Feb. 29 are called "leaplings" or "leapers." For more than 20 years, leapers have been invited to celebrate their birthdays in Anthony, a town of about 4,500 straddling the border between Texas and New Mexico north of El Paso, which proclaimed itself the Leap Year Capital of the World, complete with a Feb. 29 festival.

But the Chamber of Commerce has canceled the festivities this year, claiming fiscal constraints, according to its website, www.leap yearcapital.com. If anyone is interested in picking up the tab, please let them know soon.

Lest we go too far in poking fun at leap year, consider: This year, you get an extra day. Sure, it's just a day. But over the course of a lifetime of, say, 80 years, a person will gain 20 days, thanks to those ancient Egyptians.

So make the most of them. Maybe saying "I do" isn't just for weddings.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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