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Home Arts and Culture  Is Feb. 29 really Leap Year day?
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Wednesday, February 29,2012

Is Feb. 29 really Leap Year day?

by Lawrence Cosentino

Believe it or not, there is a case to be made for Feb. 24.

The cocktail-party showoff term for Leap Year is “bissextile year,” which is easy to remember when you recall that Julius Caesar was bisexual (“every woman’s husband and every man’s wife,” quipped Caesar’s biographer Suetonius).

When Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar, he didn’t just tack a day on to the end of February. He inserted the new day after Feb. 24, “the sixth day before the kalends (beginning) of March,” or, in Latin, “ante diem sextum kalendas Martias.” As a result, after Caesar’s reform, there were “two sixth days” before March 1, or “bis sextum.” If it helps, think of a man cutting in line to see the film “Julius Caesar,” ante sextum Marlon Brando. The man barging into the middle of the line, not the last person in line, is the “extra” guy. 

Today, we can still find vestiges of this arcane hair-splitting, according to Australian calendar expert Duncan Steel. During leap years, some Roman Catholic Dioceses still shift the saints’ days usually celebrated from Feb. 25 through Feb. 28 forward by one day, to Feb. 26-29. In Belgium’s Benedictine Order of Roman Catholics, the feast of St. Walburga — a kindly saint who protects sailors from hydrophobia and storms — shifts from Feb. 25 to Feb. 26 on leap years. Why would it move, unless Feb. 24, the “real” extra day, hadn’t shoved it forward?

Among no-fuss Lansing Catholics, St. Walpurga’s feast day is still Feb. 25. Michael Diebold, spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing, looked it up Monday.

“I’m looking at the calendar of saints, and almost every day has a saint’s name,” Diebold said. “Today’s saint of the day is St. Gabriel. Tomorrow’s saint is Blessed Daniel Brottier.” He paused for dramatic emphasis. 

“I click on Feb. 29 and it’s blank.”

Diebold found only one reference to Leap Year on the Catholic “Saint of the Day” website: the 2010 romantic comedy, “Leap Year.”

As Diebold read from the entry, it became clear that the church has moved on to more important matters than playing a Leap Year shell game at the tail end of February.

“It has implied cohabitation, some mildly sexual humor, at least two uses of profanity, including the ‘s’ word, and a few crass terms,” Diebold read. “That’s the only reference to Leap Year here.”

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