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Leap Day, the Longest Year and Julius Caesar’s Year of Confusion

Today is February 29th – which apparently is a quite popular day to get married. Some couples think it’s quirky or romantic. And let’s be honest, a handful of people might be hoping they only have to celebrate an anniversary once every four years. Not that I identify with this idea at all, of course.

But aside from creative wedding dates or the various online support groups devoted to people born on leap day – today might also make you curious about the history of this correction of the modern calendar. For the backstory on this, we need to go back to 46 BC – a moment history remembers as the Year of Confusion.

Before this date, the earliest Roman calendars were based on the cycles of the moon and had only 304 days spread across 10 months. The two months when no work was done in the fields were just ignored. Not a great recipe for an accurate calendar. After various earlier Roman rulers tried fixes – Caesar finally added two months to the year in 46 BC which made this year 445 days long with 15 months.

This mostly had the calendar year line up with the movements of the sun but it was still slightly off. Hence the leap day and leap year were born. The full story has a few more characters and politics mixed up, but essentially, we’re up to date on the cycles of the sun at least for the next several millennia.

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