Ode to an extra day

by Dorothy Rosby

You know that old poem?
Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
And that has twenty-eight days clear
And twenty-nine in each leap year
In honor of leap year, I’d like to expand on it:
An extra day, but I’d like to know
Why put it in a month with snow?
And another thing, what’s the reason
It’s always during campaign season?
Leap day wasn’t created to give candidates one more day to campaign, but that is one of its drawbacks. We really have it because the solar year, the time required for the sun to make one complete cycle of the seasons, is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. In other words, we start every year almost six hours too early just so we won’t have to stay up until 6 a.m. to see the New Year in.
Without leap day to make up for it, we’d be 24 days ahead of the seasons a hundred years from now. We wouldn’t even have our leaves raked and the calendar would be calling for snow shovels—just like now.
This concerned the Roman dictator Julius Caesar so much that he added the extra day to keep the calendar synchronized with the seasons. Smart guy. No wonder they named a salad after him.
Kidding. That was a different Caesar. And Julius didn’t have it quite right anyway. Five hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds times 4 equals…well, I don’t know what it equals, but it doesn’t equal a full day so further adjustments were necessary. This is too complicated for me to get into, mainly because I don’t understand it. Suffice it to say 2100, 2200 and 2300 will not be leap years, even though they’re divisible by four. Lucky! No extra day of campaigning.
An astronomer named Aloysius Lilius came up with our modern calendar. He was so accurate that whoever’s responsible for such things these days only has to add a leap second to the clock occasionally. Incidentally, the last leap second was added December 31, 2016. I remember it well because I appreciated the extra sleep.
Unfortunately Mr. Lilius died in 1576, six years before Pope Gregory XIII officially introduced his calendar, which may be why it’s called the Gregorian calendar and not the Liliusian calendar. You snooze, you lose. Still, it doesn’t seem fair to Lilius. Maybe we could name a salad after him.
Personally I love leap day. It’s a perfect day for putting my old photos into albums, organizing the filing cabinet and cleaning that layer of greasy dust off the top of my kitchen cupboards. Those are the kinds of things I never get done in 365 days. And if I don’t get them done on leap day, they’re the kinds of things I can put off for another four years.
I envy those people who have their birthdays on February 29. How lucky! You have a one in 1,461 chance of being born a leapling as they’re called. Also leapster or leaper, not to be confused with leper which is something else and isn’t lucky at all.
Less than 0.07% of the world’s population was born on leap day which makes them rare and exotic, like white buffalo, blue moons and affordable health insurance that covers anything.
The extra day is bad luck for some people though. I feel so bad for them that I’m inspired to write one more verse:
It’s not helpful at all to have an added day
For salaried workers with no extra pay,
Prisoners spending leap year in jail,
And all the candidates who’ll fail.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact drosby@rushmore.com.)