Today is the 28th of February and to tell the truth, I’m never totally sure if that’s it for the month, or if there’s another day coming.
Thirty days have September, April, May and November, all the rest have 31 except (and here’s where the smoke usually starts pouring from the ears) February which, has ... hang on, let me Google it.
There are valid historical reasons for this brain fade, including lunar cycles, leap years and in the wake of the Oscars, what I like to call the Still Alice syndrome.
But first of all I blame Julius Caesar, who tinkered with the calendar back in 45BC, adding a couple of days to a couple of months to get the Roman party season back in sync. In so doing he monstered February.
Awesome what you can do when you’re an emperor, and look out for the ALP to start exercising similar power re the Show Holiday now they have the run of this city. All the other months were left with 30 or 31 days, which you can verify easily enough on your knuckles, but February, like the future of heavy rail in Newcastle, was left up in the air.
This goes to the heart of today’s problem, which by any standard is not a major one, unless you’re born on February 29, or want to catch a train from Maitland into town.
I always thought there was an equation you could use to work out whether or not you were in a leap year – add up the number of the year and divide by four – but just like Tim Crakanthorp finding documents in the back of filing cabinets, it was never going to be that simple.
Time, like memory, drifts. So in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII refined the Julian Calendar by 0.002 per cent, outraging farmers and cows of the day unfamiliar as yet with the concept of daylight saving.
Gregory’s motivation was supposedly to bring the date for Easter in line with the First Council of Nicaea, which met in 325AD. Lucky it wasn’t the Council of Newcastle, they’d still be debating.
We now know the real reason Gregory tweaked the calendar was to let modern retailers know when it’s OK to start selling Easter eggs, which any inspection of supermarket aisles reveals is immediately after Christmas, and in some sections of the Hunter, before.
The Gregorian reform mucked up the “add up the year and divide by four’’ leap year equation in the following way.
Every year exactly divisible by four remained a leap year. Years exactly divisible by 100 were no longer a leap year. But centurial years exactly divisible by 400 were. Hence 2000 was a leap year, 1900 not, and just generally it was mathematical mayhem. Why Gregory would want to complicate this perfectly simple equation, God only knows. Being a Pope, I’m guessing it was to confuse people.
But be not alarmed, the confusion surrounding February extended to Asia, as illustrated by a blow-up in Oriental circles last week.
Various nationalities other than Chinese have been pushing to get the ‘‘Chinese New Year’’ renamed the “Lunar New Year” to stop the Chinese monopolising naming rights on what is by and large a moon thing, not a Chinese thing.
Chinese New Year occurs on the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, which happens to span between January 21 and February 20, but only if you’re not Chinese.
If you happen to be Chinese, it happens to fall in a range of astronomical time phases which aren’t called ‘‘months’’, but which are astronomically hard to understand.
That’s because the Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which doesn’t mean it will heat your hot water for free, but it may boil your brain if you’re unfamiliar with Chinese calendar codes and the relationships between moon phases.
In the Chinese calendar, the months begin on the day of the dark moon, and end on the day before the next dark moon, which means you may never know what month it is, but if you pay attention you’ll have a good idea when the prawns are running in Lake Macquarie.
In a solar year, there are 11 or 12 whole months. The year with 11 months is a common year. The year with 12 months is a leap year. And any year you’re alive is a good year.
This doesn’t clear up confusion about February but as that great philosopher Christopher Cross once said: “When you get lost between the moon and New York City, you know it’s crazy, but it’s true.”
Hence one billion people clog up the Chinese public transport system round this time to get back home for two days of drinking and eating. It’s called having a good time, unless you’re in China.
In the end I guess what I’m trying to say is that this weird little month they call February is over for another year (I think).
Over the course we’ve seen the Chinese/Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day and most crucially, my partner’s birthday, the celebration of which also turns on moon cycles.
If I don’t pull off a good present, we go to the dark side of the moon. If I do, we dance by the light of the silvery moon. And regrettably that tends to happen only once in a blue moon.
For the record, I hit a home run this year so I’m looking forward to next February.