Leap Day History

Ancient peoples, for millennia, had used calendars based on the moon, whose lunar cycles incrementally shifted through the seasons. These shifting seasons served as an enormous generational clock.

As the Roman Empire expanded and conquered nations, these lunar calendars were difficult to reconcile with each other. Julius Caesar, who was in a sense the first globalist, replaced the many lunar calendars with one new unified solar calendar.

Based on the sun, it had 365 days and a “leap” day every 4th year on February 29th. Instituted in 45 BC, this was called the “Julian Calendar.”

Caesar also made January the first month of the year. Previously, March had been the first month. Remnants of March being the first month is still seen in the old Roman Latin names of the months: September, October, November, December.

“Sept” is Latin for seven;

“Oct” is Latin for eight (ie. octogon=eight sided);

“Nov” is Latin for nine; and

“Dec” is Latin for ten (ie. decimal=divisible by ten).

Rome’s old fifth month, Quintilis, was renamed after Julius Caesar, being called “July.” As it only had 30 days, Julius Caesar took a day from the old end of the year, February, and added it to July, giving the month 31 days.

The next emperor, Augustus Caesar, renamed the old sixth month, Sextilis, after himself, calling it “August.” He also took a day from the old end of the year, February, and added it to August, giving that month 31 days, and leaving February with only 28 days.

Augustus Caesar also had his version of government tracking by conducting an empire-wide census to track everyone under his control.

The Roman Empire persecuted Christians for three centuries in ten major persecutions until Emperor Constantine.

Just as Julius Caesar unified the Roman Empire with the Julian Calendar, Constantine decided to have a unified date to celebrate Easter-Christ’s Resurrection throughout the Christian Roman Empire.

The most important event in the Christian calendar was Christ’s crucifixion as the Passover Lamb on the Jewish Feast of Passover, His being in the grave on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and his Resurrection of the Feast of First Fruits, or as it was later called, Easter.

The Apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians 5:7 “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”

First Corinthians 15:20 “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.”

At the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, Constantine insisted that Easter be on a Sunday in the Roman solar calendar.

This was a defining moment in the split between what had been a predominately Jewish Christian Church — as Jesus and his disciples were Jewish — and the emerging Gentile Christian Church.

Prior to Constantine, Christians would ask Jews each year when the Passover Feast would be celebrated, which according to their lunar calendar began on the evening of 14th day of Nissan.

Constantine’s new formula set the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the first paschal full moon falling on or after the Spring Equinox.

“Equinox” is a solar calendar term: “equi” = “equal” and “nox” = “night.”

Thus “equinox” is when the daytime and nighttime are of equal duration. It occurs once in the Spring around March 20 and once in the Autumn around September 22.

In the year 325 AD, Easter was on March 21.

During the Middle Ages, France celebrated its New Year Day on Easter. Tables were compiled with the future dates of Easter.

In 526, during the reign of Christian Emperor Justinian, the scholarly monk Dionysius Exigus thought it inappropriate that dates were still being recorded in relation to the reign of anti-Christian tyrant Emperor Diolcetian – “anno Diocletiani.”

Dionysius Exigus began making notations marking down dates in relation to the birth of Jesus – “anno Domini,” which in Latin means “in the year of the Lord’s reign.”

Gradually, this method of recording all dates in relation to Christ’s birth became the most accepted dating system in the world.

All dates in world history are either BC “Before Christ” or AD “Anno Domini” — meaning in the Year of the Lord’s Reign.

In the late 19th century, secularists in academia popularized the use of BCE – “Before Common Era” and CE “Common Era.”

The pointless nature of this is displayed in the question: When did the recording of time change from Before Common Era to Common Era?

The answer is, the birth of Christ.

In the attempt to ignore Christ, he is nonetheless acknowledged.

In 567 AD, the Council of Tours returned the first month of the year back to March, as the January 1st date was associated with pagan Rome.

The Council of Tours also settled another controversy between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.

The East celebrated Epiphany, January 6, as the holiest day, while the West celebrated December 25, so the decision was made to make all 12 days between them “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

They were called “holy days,” which came to be pronounced “holidays.”

Differing dates for Easter was a major conflict between the Bishops of the Celtic Christian tradition and Roman Catholic tradition, as Saint Patrick confronted the Druid chieftain King Loigaire – Leary -on the night before Easter, circa 433 AD, resulting in a large number of Irish converting.

Finally, at the Synod of Whitby Abbey in 664 AD, King Oswy of Northumbria agreed to have the Celtic Church come under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

The tables of when to celebrate Easter according to the Julian Calendar had a slight discrepancy.

By 1582, it became clear that the Julian Calendar was off by about 11 minutes per year, resulting in the compiled tables having the date of Easter ten days ahead of the Spring Equinox, and even further from its origins in the Jewish Passover.

Pope Gregory XIII decided to revise the calendar by eliminating ten days. He set a leap year every 4th year with a minor adjustment.

There is NO leap year in years divisible by 100 unless they are also divisible by 400.

Therefore, there IS a leap day in the years 1600, 2000, 2400, but there is NO leap day in the years 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100.

It sounds complicated, but it is so accurate that the Gregorian Calendar is the most internationally used calendar today.

Pope Gregory’s “Gregorian Calendar” also returned the beginning of the new year BACK to Julius Caesar’s January 1st date.

Catholic countries quickly adopted the Gregorian Calendar, but Protestant countries did not for nearly two centuries.

As England was an Anglican Protestant country, it was reluctant to adopting the more accurate Catholic Gregorian Calendar. This gave rise to some interesting record keeping.

For example: ships would leave Protestant England on one date according to the Julian Calendar, called “Old Style” and arrive in Catholic Europe at an earlier date, as much of Europe was using the Gregorian Calendar, called “New Style.”

Another example is that England’s William Shakespeare and Spain’s Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote of La Mancha, died on the same date, April 23, 1616.

But when the differences between England’s Julian Calendar and Spain’s Gregorian Calendar are removed, Cervantes actually died ten days before Shakespeare.

In 1752, England and its colonies finally adopted the Gregorian Calendar, but by that time there was an 11 day discrepancy between the “Old Style” -OS and the “New Style” – NS.

When America finally adjusted its calendar, the day after September 2, 1752 Old Style, became September 14, 1752 New Style. There were reportedly accounts of confusion and rioting.

As countries of Western Europe, particularly Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch and English, began to trade and establish colonies around the world, the Gregorian Calendar came into international use.

Another interesting event occurred on this day during Christopher Columbus’ last voyage. Driven by storms around the Caribbean Sea, two of Columbus’ ships were abandoned and the remaining two were worm-eaten and sinking.

Columbus was shipwrecked on Jamaica.

Indians brought food for a while, but then threatened to become hostile.

Columbus, using his skill as a navigator, predicted that a lunar eclipse would take place on February 29, 1504.

He called the Indian Chiefs to his marooned ship and told them if they did not stay on good terms, he would pray that God would blot out the moon.

When the eclipse began, the Indians shrieked and quickly made peace with Columbus.

Columbus later wrote: “My hope in the One who created us all sustains me: He is an ever-present help in trouble.”