As I’m sure you know, this year is a leap year. In French that’s année bissextile. A what? Well, bissextile comes from the Latin bis sextilis which means ‘twice sixth’. None the wiser? OK, leap years were introduced under the Julian calendar, after Caesar’s Egyptian astrologer Sosigenes advised him that a year was actually 365 and a quarter days long. An extra day every four years was introduced, after the 24th February. Now, Romans counted backwards in months so the 24th February to them was sexto ante calendas martii (sixth day before the 1st of March). So the extra day that was slipped in fairly logically became the second sixth day before the 1st of March – bis sextilis. Now it all makes sense!
An interesting fact. Sweden not only has 29th Februari, but has even had two 30th Februarys, one in 1700, and one three hundred years ago in 1712. This was because the country had managed to get out of sync with everyone else while attempting to gradually introduce the Gregorian calendar, rather than do it brutally as in other countries where eleven days suddenly disappeared. This had led to riots and protests on a wide scale so the Swedes decided to be more cautious.
And another one. Leap years don’t happen every 4 years. Under the Gregorian calendar, they are the years that are divisible by 4 but not by 100, or which are divisible by 400. This is why 2000 was a leap year, but not 1900.
Leap years should be celebrated since we get to have a whole extra day for free.
Three things to do on 29th February in France
1. Propose to someone if you’re a girl. At one time there was a law in Scotland that meant a man couldn’t refuse the proposal! And yes, I know in this day and age women can pop the question any time, but Leap Year Day is the official day to do it. I won’t be since I think Chris would be upset and anyway, I can’t think of a better guy to be married to. Caiti tells us she won’t be husband hunting either on Wednesday.
2. Buy a copy of La Bougie du Sapeur (The Fireman’s/Engineer’s Candle) a humorous French magazine that only appears every 29th February. This year’s will be number 9. Apparently, on the back page is a coupon offering you the chance to subscribe for 25 issues i.e. for the next 100 years at a cost of €100. I shall see if I can find a copy this year.
3. Go geocaching. Geocachers in every country are being asked to find a cache on 29th February so as to set a new world record for the number of geocaches found on a certain day. We’ll be joining in. In 2008, 36,696 caches were found. Geocachers.com is hoping to double that amount this year. Anyone who finds a cache and logs it on the site will get a special souvenir on their cache profile.
Whatever you do, have a nice 29th of February this year.