Leap Day

Why isn’t Leap Day a holiday? From ancient times early civilizations that used a solar calendar realized that the 365 day year doesn’t really work out. (Must have been a calculation error in the divine calculus on day one, I suppose.) Even though the solstices and equinoxes come and go with astronomical regularity, the earth’s orbit around the sun is a little out of sync with its wobble on its axis. The difference doesn’t make itself very apparent in a year, or even a decade. If you let it keep going, however, the calendrical months, like the seasons themselves, begin to migrate. Given enough time January would become summer in the northern hemisphere. Intercalary solutions ranged from adding extra days to saving them up, in some cultures, and adding an extra month to the year. The error of the gods then slipped back into mathematical precision. The one thing that the ancients recognized in common was that this extra time was a gift, a day to be celebrated. In the modern, post-industrial world, it is just another day to go to work while politicians get an extra day to campaign.

Time is perhaps the greatest theological challenge. People have limited time. Since we seek pleasure and comfort—even when we don’t attain it—most of us prefer to remain alive to try again. We sometimes forget how great a gift this is. One of my favorite songs growing up was Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” But alas, time is a bandit—as Jim Croce’s tragically short life illustrates a little too well. As the ultimately unrenewable resource, time reminds us of the folly of politicians and the fickleness of fame. Wasting time is the greatest sin imaginable.

Above all, time is a religious problem. Faced with human mortality, all religions address, in some way or other, what happens after the end. When time runs out. We can’t conceive this world without us, but as the calendar implacably shows, it’ll get along just fine. That’s why today should be a holiday. It is a freebie—one of those rare, saving up for a rainy day moments when after four years of scrimping we’re given a new day. It has celebrate written all over it. Time is a bandit, robbing us of the sensibilities of our ancient, cultural forebears who used this time to party while we use it to labor. “Time in a Bottle,” it is said, was written for Croce’s son A. J. The son is a musician like his late father. As I sit here hearing the seconds tick away on the clock, I realize that every great once in a while the bandit gives as well as takes. In that light, every day is a holiday.

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