In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in another leap year and there’s a 29th day of February coming up Monday.
Leap year – and its accompanying 366th day – is one of the many somewhat strange things in society that’s largely taken for granted. It’s purportedly about synchronization of the calendar to the actual time it takes the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
That’s because our home planet actually takes slightly more than a “year” to travel around its host star – 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds longer, for the record. But being the cautious realist God made me, I have a few suspicions that there’s more to it than celestial synchronicity.
But first, a little leap history.
The practice of adding the extra day began in 46 B.C. when the Julian calendar was created by decree of Roman ruler Julius Caesar and an extra day was added every four years. But Caesar’s design (or the one devised by his calendar cronies) was far from accurate, and by 1582 an 11-minute discrepancy in it that had added up to a whopping 10 days.
At that point, Pope Gregory XIII stepped in and had the Gregorian calendar created. To get rolling, Greg 13 had 10 days from that year’s October to even things up. He also established Feb. 29 as the official date to add during a leap year, and had leap year rules fine-tuned to only include century years that can be evenly divided by 400 (for example, 1700 and 1900 were not leap years because they are not divisible by 400, even though they are divisible by four).
That all but assured there would never again be a Julian-style cosmic discrepancy. And while he was at it, Greg even coined the term “leap year” (or at least is credited with doing so).
Of course, as with almost anything out of the ordinary, a bunch of weird traditions and superstitions ended up surrounding leap years, like people in Greece avoiding marriage to avoid bad luck. And of course, there’s the subject of “leap babies,” and all the charming anecdotes about 40-year-olds having only 10 birthdays.
But then, not many people are born on Feb. 29 in Scotland, because that’s considered bad luck.
Anyway, amongst all the stuff surrounding leap year, there’s one little tidbit of technicality that really gets my attention: In effect, salaried employees work for free on leap days. That may sound harmless and funny on the surface, but it makes you really wonder if there could very well be more to staging an occasional 366-day year than simply making sure that 15,000 years from now snow isn’t falling in August, and temperatures aren’t in the 100s in January.
In turn, I declare that from here on Feb. 29 is International Salaried Employees Work-For-Free Day.
It’s fascinating. For hourly employees, Feb. 29 represents a chance to make a day’s extra wage. But the opposite is true for workers with salaried positions.
For example, for three straight years, a middle manager at a cardboard factory in Canton works a certain number of days for a designated amount of money, then suddenly, along comes an added day of work with no added compensation.
Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t working without compensation called slavery? I’m not accusing anyone of anything that extreme – or even illegal – it’s just that something seems to be missing from the equation (like cash, bread, moolah, lettuce).
But guess what that extra day also means (in a money sense): More sales tax collected by sales tax-collecting entities. What a bonus! Another whole day for people to buy groceries, gas and garments, and for those purchases to generate tax income.
Free money! It’s a miracle!
So maybe leap year (and its accompanying leap day) is more than a scientific band-aid that has been applied to a less-than-failsafe system of tracking days, months and years. It could be more about money.
But then, what isn’t these days? For that matter, since the first-ever exchange of something valuable took place, hasn’t everything pretty much always been about financial gain?
And we know, of course, that the Bible says the love of bucks is the root of bad stuff (not just money itself, but the unchecked, misguided love of it; see 1 Timothy 6:10).
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.