Taking Some Time Out
Hotspur: “By heaven methinks it were an easy leap
To pluck bright honour from the pale faced moon…”
Shakespeare; Henry IV Part 1 1597
Here’s something you may not be aware of. Every single person on planet Earth is going to undergo a bissextile experience this year. That’s right, it’s absolutely unavoidable, and we can also tell you exactly when it’s going to happen too: the 29th February. You can stay in bed all day with the curtains shut and the doors locked, but it’s going to happen. You will also undergo a painless intercalating experience at the same time.
You’ve probably stopped hyperventilating (or grinning, depending on your hidden desires) and spotted the obvious clue by now: the 29th of February. It’s that spare day that gets inserted once every four years to synchronise the calendar years with the astronomical years. For reasons known only to providence, the earth doesn’t orbit the sun in exactly 365 days: it takes 365.256 days, and the extra six hours and eight or so minutes every year is enough to throw our calendars off target. Fortunately, those six hours manage to multiply handily into an extra day every four years, and so we have the phenomenon of a Leap Year, with February getting the spare day.
Of course, this simplifies the process somewhat, and history tells us that it took mathematicians, philosophers, astronomers and other magicians many millennia to establish exactly why the seasons seemed to shift slowly. The Roman Calendar, on which our current system is roughly based, was set up during the time of the Roman Republic and used a prehistoric observational lunar system based on ten fixed months. This was a fun system: four months of 31 days (‘full’ months) and six months of 30 days (‘hollow months’.) You don’t have to be a soothsayer to work out that that comes to 304 days; so what the Ancient Romans did was declare the remaining 50 or so days as ‘odd days’, or an ‘unorganised winter’. No need for Leap Years or extra days – just follow the moon cycle. At least one source (Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius, if you really want to know) who documented those almost forgotten times says that what really happened was that ten months would tick over in sequence until summer was winter and vice versa, and the Romans would just start all over again at the correct point. It’s all lost in the mists of time, so who knows? Bring back those unorganised winters, we reckon.
When Julius Caesar arrived on the scene and set up the Julian Calendar in 45 BCE, his scholars added the unorganised winter days, (tipping a nod to Roman Emperors Julius and Augustus in the naming of the months, and thereby putting the numbered system into total disarray) added a further ten days to the original Roman Calendar, and were the first observers to note that an extra day needed to be inserted every four years to keep the scales of calendar and astronomy balanced. To set things up, they first inserted three ‘intercalary months’ – each with an extra day – to make sure things were all in sync going forward. This account is, you’ll understand, a very simplified version of things, but given space limitation it will have to suffice. What did come out of those Caesarean years was the term ‘bissextile’; however, explaining exactly why requires the combined language, historical and logical skills of a genius, which I appear to lack. A quick quote by way of explanation: “To create the intercalary day, the existing ante diem sextum Kalendas Martias (February 24) was doubled, producing ante diem bis sextum Kalendas Martias. Hence, the year containing the doubled day was a bissextile (bis sextum, ‘twice sixth) year.”(Gale Encyclopaedia of Science, if you are suitably intrigued and want to follow up.)
So, what are you doing this bissextile? If we follow Folk Traditions, women are traditionally ‘allowed’ to propose during a Leap Year. Some say this dates back to Saint Patrick or Brigid of Kildare in 5th century Ireland, but this is a little suspicious as records only show accounts of the practice dating back to the nineteenth century. Some countries celebrate Bachelor’s Day on the 29th February, but … bachelors beware. Tradition has it that a law passed in 1288 by Queen Margaret of Scotland required that severe fines be levied if the man refused the proposal. Given that Margaret was five years old and living in Norway at the time, perhaps we can ignore this commandment.
Whatever you plan to do this year, make Waterfront Charters part of your equation! If it’s romance you’re after, 14th February Valentine’s Day cruises are the perfect opportunity to pop just about any question, and given that the 29th is a spare day, take it off and join us for a long, languid cruise. Whatever option you choose, February is almost upon us, and the Waterfront Charters team are there to help add the romantic magic to your lives!