February 2024 will have an extra day due to Leap Year (Credit: Sanu N/ CC-BY-SA-4.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

Need more time to complete an assignment this month? Then, you will be thrilled to know that 2024 is a Leap Year, an event that occurs every four years. Instead of the customary 365 days, this year will have 366 days. The extra day is added to the calendar as February 29, also known as Leap Day.

Why is Leap Day necessary?

Leap Years help keep our calendar in line with the seasons (Credit: National Institute of Education/ Public Domain)

Our modern-day calendar is based on the premise that it takes the Earth 365 days to complete its orbit around the Sun. However, that journey actually takes 365.2422 days, or about 6 hours more to complete. It would be hard to add the odd number of hours to our year annually. However, ignoring them is not a good idea either. The additional quarter day each year adds up to a full 25 days every century. If left unchecked, our calendar seasons would lag behind our solar seasons by almost a month at the end of the hundred years. Over time, winter weather might develop in what the calendar shows as summer, and vice versa.

Who came up with the idea of Leap Day?

The ancient Egyptians, who followed a solar calendar, were the first to add extra days to their year to realign with the seasons. In 46 BC, Roman Emperor Julius Caesar noticed that the Roman calendar, based on a lunar calendar, had strayed from the correct seasons by about three months. To rectify the issue, he adopted the Egyptian calendar. He began by declaring an extra long, 445-day year. This ensured that the calendar seasons were in sync with the solar seasons. After that, an extra "Leap" day was added every four years.

The Julian calendar, as it was called, was a significant improvement. However, rounding the extra 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 16 seconds to a quarter of a day overestimated the solar calendar by 11 minutes.

Leap Years are skipped every so often to realign the calendar with the seasons(Credit: National Institute of Education/ Public Domain)

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII signed an order to rectify the issue. It stipulated that a leap year had to be divisible by both 100 and 400. This meant that 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, but 1600 and 2000 were. Though confusing, the adjustment has made what became called the Gregorian calendar more accurate.

How is Leap Day celebrated?

Two American cities hold a four-day Leap Year Festival (Credit: Congress.gov/ Public Domain)

Leap Day is particularly special for the over five million people born on February 29. They only get to celebrate their birthdays once every four years. Many hotels and retail chains offer special deals for "leaplings." The twin cities of Anthony, Texas, and Anthony, New Mexico, celebrate the occasion with a four-day-long Leap Year Festival. The festivities include a huge birthday party for everyone born on February 29.

Resources: Wikipedia.org, History.com, theconversation.org