Eric Douglas: Leap Day -- the great equalizer

Eric Douglas sig

Most of us carry around access to every piece of information in the world in our pockets in the form of a smart phone with search capabilities. But in some ways, I think we’ve forgotten the basic science and observation that got us here.

For example, Leap Day was created 2,000 years ago by Julius Caesar, emperor of Rome, when he introduced the Julian calendar. The previous Roman calendar was based on moon phases and was complicated. Even then they knew they had to add a day to the calendar every so often to keep things straight.

Astronomers of the day had figured out it took slightly more than 365 days for the Earth to circle the sun. An additional five hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds, to be exact.

I mean, without computers and telescopes, I’m amazed that they were able to figure these things out. Granted, they had less light pollution so they could actually see stars in the sky, but it is still incredible.

In contrast, today we have people who believe the earth is flat.

To correct for that nearly quarter-of-a-day per year, they created a Leap Day in 45 B.C. or 2,065 years ago. For those keeping score, that’s before Jesus was born.

Why February? Back then, February was the last month on the calendar and so they tacked on a day there. Why New Year’s Day moved to Jan. 1 is a completely different story.

There are some interesting traditions that have sprung up for Leap Day over the years. In a vote for equality between the sexes, there’s an Irish legend that St. Brigid and St. Patrick struck a compromise that allowed women to propose to men on Leap Day.

If the man refused the marriage proposal, there were laws on the books in the Middle Ages that said he had to pay a penalty. Among the upper crust, the man would have to buy the woman 12 pairs of gloves to allow her to “cover the shame of not having an engagement ring.”

The Scots considered it unlucky to be born on Leap Day, just like some people are afraid of Friday the 13th.

Fortunately today, women can propose to men any day of the year – and no one wears gloves any more, except when it is really cold out.

While I don’t know any Leap Day babies, I think it would be cool to have Feb. 29 on a birth certificate – nothing to be afraid of, anyway.

If only we could get people to trust science again.

Eric Douglas, of Pinch, is the author of “Return to Cayman,” “Heart of the Maya,” “Cayman Cowboys,” “River Town” and other novels. He is also a columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and a former Charleston Newspapers Metro staff writer. For more information, visit or contact him at

Funerals for Saturday, march 28, 2020

Adkins, Eugene - 1 p.m., New Bethel Baptist Church, Spurlockville.

Bee, Charles - 11 a.m., First Baptist Church, Parkersburg.

Blaylock Sr., Robert - 11 a.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Dingess, Cheyenne - 11 a.m., Highland Memory Gardens, Godby.

Lee, William - 1 p.m., Liberty Missionary Baptist Church.

Russell, Wilma - 2 p.m., Fields Cemetery, Nettie.

Skeen, Thomas - 1 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Smith, David - 11 a.m., procession to leave Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Tolley, Mary - 11 a.m., Gandee Chapel / Ward Cemetery.

Young, Kathryn - Service cancelled.