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Making the Most of Leap Day

canstockphoto34014955Today we get the ultimate bit of lagniappe in this high-stress, warp-speed world.

An extra day.

Feb. 29, 2016, is Leap Day for those in the know about Gregorian calendars and orbital spin.

It’s the 366th day of the year (not chronologically, but you get the idea). A Leap Day is added to the calendar every four years because the Earth circles the sun in 365.2422 days, and someone had to make up for that bit of extra orbit time, lest we eventually start harvesting daffodils in December or running snow plows in July. Pope Gregory XIII rose to the challenge in 1582, creating the Gregorian calendar we still use today.

But why do we fiddle with February, versus April or October? Blame Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, who made a few personal adjustments to the Julian calendar, upon which the Gregorian calendar is based. Under Julius Caesar, Augustus’s predecessor, February had 30 days, July had 31 and August just 29. So Augustus Caesar decided to add two days to the month named for him (August, obviously), thereby equalizing the two rulers according to each one’s eponymous month. February drew the resulting short stick of just 28 days, making it the obvious candidate for an eventual extra Leap Day every four years.

Leap Years are those years divisible by 4. Except for century years, which also must be divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400 (I am not making this up). Which means that 2000 was a Leap Year, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. Neither will 2100 be.

Whether Leap Day offers opportunity or onus depends on your individual take on things. Some grumble about an extra day of work without an extra day’s salary, while others adhere to the belief that Leap Day babies – or Leapers – have special talents.

As a child of December who blames most of her early trauma on a too-close-to-Christmas birthday, I have to admit that my one Leaper friend has me outpaced in natal distress. Today she arguably turns just 16, rather than 64. And since some websites won’t accept Feb. 29 as an acceptable birth date, she and other Leapers face some weird technological aberrations.

The chances of having a Leap Day birthday are just one in 1,461. Still, the world has an estimated 5 million Leapers. Two mothers, one in Norway and one in Utah, have been documented by the New York Daily News as having given birth to three different children born on Feb. 29 (each obviously four years apart). Celebrities who list today as their birthday include rapper Ja Rule (the big 4-0, or maybe the big 1-0), 16th century Pope Paul III, actress Dinah Shore and Italian composer Gioachhino Rossini.

Not many truly revolutionary events can be traced to a Leap Day, though Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Oscar on Feb. 29, 1940, and Hugh Hefner opened the doors to the world’s first Playboy Bunny Club on Leap Day 1960.

By tradition, Leap Day is a propitious one for females embroiled in relationships with commitment-challenged males: On Feb. 29, the ladies are allowed to propose to men. Unless they live in Greece, where Leap Day marriages (and, ostensibly, engagements) are, according to the culture, doomed by fate before they even begin.

Of perhaps more interest to New Orleanians is the Leap Day cocktail, invented in 1928 by London Savoy Hotel bartender Harry Craddock; it’s said to be responsible for more proposals than any other drink. The recipe: two-thirds gin, one-sixth Grand Marnier, one-sixth sweet Vermouth and a dash of lemon juice.

Of course, anything rare results in extra attention, and there are plenty of 2016 Leap Day specials and events both locally and abroad. Today, Leap Day babies can get a free pizza at Pizza Hut, a free entrée at Hard Rock Cafe or a free cookie at McAlister’s Deli. The rest of us can celebrate the event with a Leap Day Fest at the Louisiana Children’s Museum or an extra dozen Krispy Kreme donuts for $2.29.

Personally, I’m thinking that these 24 bonus hours come with some responsibility. In this high-stress, warp-speed world (see above), we dare not waste them.

So, while Leap Day may give that cabal of loud and argumentative presidential candidates a bonus crop of cable news hours, I won’t be tuning in. Every election year is a Leap Year anyway, so the additional political ranting is not unprecedented. Leap Day does give the Louisiana legislature more time behind the special session podium, but I can’t think it will help mend budget woes.

If I were in Paris, I could pick up and peruse a copy of La Bougie de Sapeur, published only once every four years on Leap Day, at a cost of 4 Euros per issue or 100 Euros per century.

A better destination than the City of Lights might be Anthony, Texas, which also straddles the border of New Mexico, and which bills itself as the Leap Day Capital of the World. Its website, however, still touts the 2012 celebration, suggesting that this would-be holiday hub didn’t make the, er, leap to destination stardom.

At any rate, I missed Jetblue’s $29 Leap Day airfare sale, so am grounded in New Orleans on this windfall day. I'm thinking that an extra 24 hours is a perfect spell for a binge session of The Wire or Project Runway. Anything as precious as free time, however, probably should be spent in more worthwhile endeavors.

Perhaps we could run the city’s Pothole Killer for an extra 24 hours (start with my own 7th Street, please). Use the time to catch up on replacing burned-out public lights, installing crime cameras that work or speeding up the bulldozers at Jefferson/Napoleon/Louisiana avenues.

We could offer a 24-hour free zone for local parking meters. Or a 24-hour moratorium on conversations that contain the word monument.

Or perhaps this Leap Day is better spent in reflection. I have written before that New Orleans is a place where people tend to live in the moment. And who, these days, gets an extra moment to live in?

Leap Day Lagniappe

Best ever Leap Day TV moment: Leap Day William (I'm so waiting for him to show today) from Thirty Rock. Spend a Leap Second laughing:

Take a Leap Day quiz from CNet (I pretty much failed it).

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]