It is almost universal that people wish they had more time. More time to do what they want instead of meeting demands imposed on them. More time to get things done without constantly feeling rushed. More time to live, plain and simple. This year is a leap year, so a tiny portion of all those desires and wishes gets granted, you get an extra whole day. We know this is in some ways an illusion, but because we insist on making time linear and chopping it up into little blocks, in this case it can be a useful illusion.
We can thank Julius Caesar for giving us that extra day every four years. Before his reforms the Roman calendar had 355 days with an extra 22-day month every two years. This intercalary month was created by inserting 22 or 23 days after the first 23 days of February and then making the the last five days of February the last five days of Intercalaris. The net effect was to form an intercalary year of 377 or 378 days. Had it been managed correctly this system could have allowed the Roman year to stay roughly aligned to the events of the solar year, the solstices and equinoxes. equinoxes a tropical year.
Like most things, however, this was defeated by the fact the intercalary months and years had to be declared by the Pontifices, the cadre of priests of the ancient Roman religion. Since the Pontifices were often politicians, and their term of 0ffice corresponded with a calendar year, a Pontifex could lengthen a year in which he or one of his political cronies were in office, or refuse to lengthen one when his opponents were. Just think of the havoc such a scheme would create today, trusting politicians to keep the calendar adjusted. This awkward arrangement created problems because the Romans had a very full calendar of ritual feast days and holidays and these feast days began sliding into different seasons. On top of that, these months were often decided on so late when they were put into effect, Roman citizens often had no idea of the date. Compound this by the size of the Roman Empire and the means of communication available at the time and you can imagine the difficulties. It got so bad the years just before the reform became known as the “years of confusion”. The problems peaked when there were only five intercalary months rather than the required eight in the five Roman years before Caesar acted in 46 BC. He ordered his astronomer Sosigenes to devise a better system. Sosigenes decided on a 365-day year with an extra day every four years to incorporate the extra hours, essentially given us our modern calendar.
There is an interesting story on the origins of February being the shortest month, that being since under Julius Caesar’s calendar February had 30 days and July, being the month named after him, had 31, his successor, Caesar Augustus, having an ego befitting a Caesar, found this very vexing. His month, August, only had 29 days. To make his month longer and equal to Julius’s he took two days from February and tacked them onto August. There is plenty of evidence to contradict this colorful anecdote, however, which is rather disappointing to me, it’s such a good story.
This worked for quite some time but eventually another reform was required because the Julian calendar adds too many leap days. The calculated date of Easter moved out of alignment with the spring equinox since the astronomical dates advance about 11 minutes a year against the Julian year. While the Romans were probably aware of this, it was not addressed at the time of Caesar’s reform and indeed it was not until 1582 that it became an issue. Indeed, the change amounted to a 0.002% correction in the length of the year. By 1582, it was ten days out of alignment. The celebration of Easter was tied to the spring equinox and the Roman Catholic Church wanted to correct the drift of the date away from the solstice where it was celebrated originally by the early church. In addition to jumping the date up ten days, which many objected too, feeling they were being cheated of days, the number of leap years was modified. Years that are divisible y 100 are not leap years unless they are also divisible by 400. So, while we celebrated a leap year in 2000, it was the first time a centurial year was a leap year since 1600.
Now we are in a leap year and have that extra day what shall we do? It falls on a Monday so you might take a day off from work. If your business will collapse because you took a day off, there are others issues at work. Don’t believe your boss that it can’t be done, especially if you are the boss. If you feel that pressured, please go read “The Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss. You could work that day and take a day the kids have off from school and do something special. Time travel is not possible. You cannot retrieve days from the past. We have structured our time by the calendar and it is giving you a small window of opportunity. Time is the most fragile, ephemeral gift you can receive, so accept it graciously and do something for yourself. This especially applies if you are American, in my experience Americans are work addicted and seem only able to enjoy things rather than experiences. Of course it’s not universally true, but I encountered people from all over the world in travel and as an English teacher and of all of them Americans least know how to stop and savor the small moments of life, a good conversation, a great cup of coffee, a slowly consumed home-cooked meal, an hour with a good book and some music, an hour merely sitting, doing nothing but enjoying the sun and fresh air.
So on my extra day I am going to cook and slowly eat some good food, read and write letters, real long-hand letters on actual paper, and listen to music all day. I will listen to Cold Play and Mark Knopfler and Bach and Ralph Vaughan Williams and Renaisance music. I will read posts on all my favorite blogs, slowly and carefully, catching any I have missed. Also, . I recently received from England a copy of ” Sleep No More” by L.T.C. Rolt. The story Bosworth Summit Pound is a classic understated tale of the supernatural and one of my favorites, which I found originally in an anthology. I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in his book on my extra day. I will start the morning with a pot of dark roast Peet’s coffee and switch to a nice Merlot in the afternoon. Needless to say, the phones will be switched off and the emails will be parked in limbo for the day. After all, I only get this once every four years