As we bid farewell to the month of February, we need to take pause, pour a glass of violet wine, and offer a toast to all of the leap year babies.

As we bid farewell to the month of February, we need to take pause, pour a glass of violet wine, and offer a toast to all of the leap year babies.

After all, they only get to celebrate their birthdays once every four years.

My friend Linda Hawkins’ grandmother was born on Feb. 29 many years ago and claimed that she never aged as fast as everyone else. She celebrated her 84th birthday with only 21 candles on her cake, and was given a bouquet of African violets.

The flower of February is the violet and the ancient Persians even made a delicate wine from the tiny blooms of the violet. The violet is often referred to in Greek and Roman literature, and the history of this little blossom has been traced for 2,000 years from the ancient olive groves of Greece.

Shakespeare spoke of the flowers as: “Violets dim, but sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes, or Cytherea’s breathe.”

There are about 300 different species of violets and they grow wild in nearly every country around the world. Here in America there are at least 80 species, and in Jackson County, they generally bloom in my backyard early in April, May, and June.

Violets are said to be the emblem of modesty, consequently a timid person is sometimes characterized as “a shrinking violet.” However, Linda Hawkins said her grandmother was anything but timid.

In the Gregorian calendar, the current standard calendar in most of the world, Feb. 29 is a date that usually occurs every four years, and is called leap day. Leap years are added to the calendar to keep it working properly. The 365 days of the annual calendar are meant to match up with the solar year. A solar year is the time it takes the Earth to complete its orbit around the sun, about one year. But the actual time it takes for the Earth to travel around the sun is in fact a little longer than that, about 365 1⁄4 days (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds, to be precise). So the calendar and the solar year don’t completely match. The calendar year is a touch shorter than the solar year.

It may not seem like much of a difference, but after a few years those extra quarter days in the solar year begin to add up. After four years, for example, the four extra quarter days would make the calendar fall behind the solar year by about a day. Over the course of a century, the difference between the solar year and the calendar year would become 25 days! Instead of summer beginning in June, for example, it wouldn’t start until nearly a month later, in July. And as every kid looking forward to summer vacation knows, calendar or no calendar, that’s way too late! So every four years a leap day is added to the calendar to allow it to catch up to the solar year.

My own dear, sweet grandmother always said that leap day was invented to allow women the opportunity to propose marriage to men, so stay away from the girls on that day.

I guess she was correct with that idea though, because in the British Isles, it is a tradition that women may indeed propose marriage on leap years. Supposedly, a 1288 law by Queen Margaret of Scotland, required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man; compensation ranged from a kiss to a silk gown, in order to soften the blow. As the years unfolded down through time, that tradition has tightened to restricting female proposals only on the modern leap day, Feb. 29.



Reference: “All About the Months” by Maymie R. Krythe.

In cooperation with The Examiner, Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior or school groups.