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An Extra Day

Posted on March 6, 2020 at 3:55 AM

If you hadn’t already noticed, this year is a leap year. The past month – February – had an extra day. It happens every four years so you would think we would be used to it by now, but when ever it comes around it causes a bit of a fuss. It is not unusual to find a news story about someone celebrating their 21st birthday on the 29th when in fact they have lived for 84 years!

The problem, that need to be resolved by adding or subtracting days or months) to the calendar every few years, has been recognised for centuries. The ancient Jewish Calendar has twelve lunar months but in every 19 year cycle an additional month is added on seven occasions. It is also possible to delay the start of the year by two days. The reason for these variations is to ensure that the Passover always fall in springtime. The original Gregorian Calendar had 29 days in every February and every fourth year one day would be leaped – missed out.

Even with these additions the mathematics is not perfect and small extra adjustments continue to be made. The crux of the problem is that our lives are governed by both the moon and the sun. The cycle of the moon, from new to full, gives us one measure of the passage of time; the rising and setting of the sun and the solstices, give us another. Tides relate to the moon; season relate to the sun. But these two cycles are not easily reconcilable. Our human construct of the calendar can only every be an approximation – a best fit – of these two cycles. So, every few years we need to make the necessary adjustments.

I think that the leap year should be a moment of humility – a recognition that the greatest human mathematicians cannot construct a calendar that maps the cycle of the sun exactly onto the cycle of the moon. Frequently, the psalmist asks us to consider the sun, the moon, and the stars – the handiwork of our creator. It is a way of helping us to keep a proper perspective on the achievements of humanity and of our place in the created order.

As we approach Passover and Easter the leap year – a year that has been adjusted to ensure Easter fall in Springtime let us consider the sun, moon and the stars and marvel at the beauty and complexity of God’s creation.

Fr Philip


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