Friday, February 29, 2008

Leaping Lizards

What distinguishes an intercalary or leap year from a common year in the Gregorian calendar is a single day, February 29, which we call Leap Day. Today is that special day and it is certainly true that for the few who are born today, most will probably not see their 25th birthday. But save those tears. They can choose to celebrate either my birthday, February 28, or my Uncle Irvin's birthday, March 1, as their own each year, leaping their way from one to the other every other year that their true date of birth doesn't appear on the calendar. Leap Day has many traditions associated with it, some of which are fun and exciting, while others are downright scary. For example, four years ago Leap Day was on a Sunday and it was the occasion of our Boy Scouts Council's first annual interfaith Ten Commandments Hike, which Dr. Cedric Walker of Tulane University's Biomedical Engineering Department dubbed "The Leap of Faith" hike. Leap Day will not occur on a Sunday again until 2032, but when it does, on the 28th annual hike, I hope to be marching right there with all the others along St. Charles Avenue. Leap Day figures as a literary device in the book of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty" where the abducted pirate Frederic is informed that because he was born on February 29 he is "a little boy of five" and has not yet reached 21, the date when he would no longer be indentured and would be free to dispatch the pirates. Probably the most dubious tradition associated with Leap Day is the one that affords women the ability to pop the question when seeking a proposal of marriage. How this became a tradition remains to be seen, since it has only been since the Nineteenth Century that its practice became attributed. It is important to remind everyone that Leap Day is not Sadie Hawkins Day, as some misinformed parties would have us believe. Cartoonist Al Capp came up with the idea of Sadie Hawkins Day on November 15, 1937. Sadie was reputed to be the homeliest girl in all of fictional Dogpatch and her father Hekzebiah, worried about her prospects for marriage, instituted a barefoot race for the ladies to chase down the bachelors of the town as potential mates. Due to the popularity of the strip, Sadie Hawkins Day races sprang up across college campuses in the late 1930's with the losers usually having to attend a dance or some other event. In more recent years the date the idea first appeared in Capp's strip has since been determined to be Sadie Hawkins Day or November 15, but its popularity has faded and really has nothing to do with Leap Day. The only similarity between the two days is that a woman can take the initiative in asking a man to be married. So, in the meantime guys, be very careful today or else you may have to worry about the letters in L-E-A-P being respelled P-E-A-L as in peals of wedding bells.

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