Leap Day

This year, on Feb. 29, the young couple will celebrate the first anniversary of their wedding. They were married last Feb. 29 which was four years ago. I was there.

The bride wanted to be married on Feb. 29, which is what folks call Leap Day.

There was just something about that day and as a young girl she had decided that Feb. 29 was the day she wanted get married. And that's exactly what she did.

There is something about that day given its distinction of appearing in the calendar once every four years. That can lead to some imaginative time reckoning.

Consider the plight of Frederic in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera "The Pirates of Penzance." As a child Frederic was mistakenly apprenticed to a band of tenderhearted, orphaned pirates by his nurse. The nurse was hard of hearing and when told to apprentice the boy to a "pilot," she heard "pirate."

According the arrangements made with the pirates, Frederic was to be indentured to them until his 21st birthday. When Frederic finally reaches his 21st year, he feels he has kept his end of the agreement and is now a free man and is able to marry his true love, Mabel.

Alas, Frederic was born on Leap Day, so while he may have lived 21 years, he hadn't reached his 21st birthday. Technically, he'd only celebrated five birthdays. He would be in his 80s before he could blow out the candles on his cake at his 21st birthday party. That would be in 1940 and the story takes place sometime in the late 1800s.

Because he has always been a good and honest young man, Frederic believes he must honor the letter of his indenture and return to the pirates. This is the source of the play's subtitle, "The Slave of Duty." Frederic promises to return in 1940 and claim Mabel as his bride and the two agree to be faithful to each other until then.

Coincidentally (or not) South Medford High School's production of "The Pirates of Penzance" will be playing this week on the night of Feb. 29.

Besides Frederic, others have been born on Feb. 29. According to the Internet, your chances are about 1 in 1,500 of being born then. That means there are about 187,000 people in the United States and 4 million people in the world who were born on Leap Day.

People born on Leap Day look and act pretty much like the rest of us, except when it comes time for their birthdays. Governments have to figure out how to issue them drivers' licences, often forcing the applicant to pick a different day to celebrate their birth. How about Feb. 28 or March 1?

Like those of us born on other days, Leap Day people have a few notables among their ranks. Among the more recognizable names are Pope Paul III, Gioacchino Rossini, Dinah Shore, Al Rosen, Anthony (Tony) Robbins and Jimmy Dorsey.

February 29 also has its share of memorable events in history. It was the day back in 1692 when the first accusations began during the Salem witch trials.

On Feb. 29, 1940, the day Frederic finally celebrated his 21st birthday and his freedom from the pirates was the day Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an acting Oscar for her performance in "Gone with the Wind."

The first "Walk/Don't Walk" signs were installed in New York City on Feb. 29, 1952. And on that day 12 years later, Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser chalked up her 36th world record making her the first female swimmer to win gold medals in three consecutive Olympic Games (1956, 1960 and 1964).

Many centuries ago women were allowed to propose to men during a leap year or Leap Day. Leap Day became known as "Bachelors' Day" and if a man refused to accept a woman's proposal of marriage on that day, he had to pay a fine. Irish tradition holds that St. Patrick agreed with St. Bridget's request that women be allowed to propose to men every four years.

Leap Day is also the feast day of St. Oswald, a 10th century archbishop of York who died on Leap Day in 992. In the Bahá'í calendar Feb. 29 is one of the days dedicated to fasting preparations, charity, hospitality and gift-giving.

All this fuss simply because our calendar and the Sun aren't in synch with one another. A solar year is about 11 minutes 14 seconds short of 3651/4 days.

So if you tack on an extra day every four years, you make up the difference. Besides, it will take more than 3,000 years for the calendar to be one day longer than a solar year. Meanwhile, time reckoning tends to balance out within the course of our lifetimes.

Unless your name happens to be Frederic.

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