Quadrennial Happenings


The Indy looks into this Leap Year

It may come as a surprise to some of our readers to hear that this year is Leap Year. Yes, it is true! We all will be gifted with an extra day and may do with it what we please. Why this Leap Day has to fall on a Monday, I do not know. I will be the first to admit I wouldn’t miss an extra Monday, though I am determined to make the best use of it this time around.

Many know that adding an extra day to the Julian calendar – which was adopted in 46 BC – helped to straighten out the mess that was the previous Roman calendar, one based on a lunar schedule. However, it may interest readers to know that the Egyptians were the first to determine the need for a realigned calendar. The Egyptian practice did not make its way to the Roman Empire until Julius Caesar’s time. It was then that Caesar and the astronomer Sosigenes restructured the calendar so that it consisted of the 12 months and 365 days that we still have today. In Jorg Rupke’s book The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine, Rupke stresses the “capacity of calendar systems to embrace, accommodate, and resist change.” It may also be within the nature of humanity to adapt easily to change while simultaneously avoiding it. The trend of calendar realignment would certainly speak to that point!

The Julian calendar remained in use until the 16th century AD, by which time the Julian calendar had drifted significantly the actual solar year. In truth, it takes the Earth approximately 365.2422 days to make one whole trip around the sun, according to the US Naval Observatory. The USNO states, “Over a century, the calendar and the seasons would depart by about 24 days, so that the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere would shift from March 20 to April 13.” Since this is quite an inconvenient situation, Pope Gregory XIII put into place the revised Gregorian calendar in 1582 AD. In this calendar, the one we still use to this day, the beginning of Spring was assigned to start on March 21 and new rules for leap days were adopted. There is a leap day every four years EXCEPT on years that are divisible by 100 but not by 400. By this method, the years 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2100 are not leap years but 1600, 2000 and 2400 are leap years. At this rate, USNO says “it will take about 3,300 years before the Gregorian calendar is as much as one day out of step with the seasons.” Thank goodness we have some time then to figure out our next adjustment!

Rupke also mentions that calendarium is a Latin word meaning the registration of debts. Since much of our conception of time is linked to social aspects, this is a rather sad fact. Taken another way, it is motivation to try to live our lives unburdened by the passage of time as much as we can. But time also signifies other things – progress, memorials, celebrations, and more. Harvard students, myself included, occasionally find ourselves lost in whirl of calendar events: meetings, classes, job interviews, club activities, office hours, study, practices, and more. I encourage everyone to thus take this coming Monday as an opportunity to slow things down and appreciate our extra day. If it were warm enough outside for flowers, I might say stop and smell the flowers this Leap Day…


Caroline Cronin ’18 ([email protected]) wonders why spring couldn’t be shifted just a bit earlier…