MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For winter lovers, a Leap Day every four years in February isn’t so bad. But WCCO viewers like Kathi in Eagan wondered: Why can’t that extra day be in summer? Why is Leap Day in February? Good Question.
First, let’s remind people why we have a Leap Day. It’s because our calendar has 365 days a year, but it takes the Earth just about 365 and ¼ days to circle the sun. Without a leap day, our calendar would be out of sync and hundreds of years from now, we’d be celebrating Christmas in 90-degree weather.
So, that day has to go somewhere.
“It has more to do with history, really,” says Ben Gold, a professor of astronomy and physics at Hamline University. “It’s mostly that the Romans didn’t really like February very much.”
Back in the 8th century BC, the calendar was just ten months long.
“Then they had winter, a long period of winter, which they didn’t really like very much and didn’t even want to put it in months,” says Gold.
That didn’t work out so well, so eventually the Romans tacked on January and February to the end of the year. February, the final month, got fewer days.
Julius Caesar then tweaked the calendar to line it up with the sun. In a decree, he added a Leap Day. The Leap Day still didn’t fully account for the differences, so in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII created the Gregorian calendar and established February 29 as the official date.
“It’s the shortest,” says Gold. “It’s the leftover month that nobody really wanted to begin with.”
And, as for those pesky rumors that Roman emperors stole days from February to add to the month names after them — July and August – historians say that’s probably not true. The calendar was already in place by then.