Thursday, May 12, 2022

Question from Samantha - Leap day birthdays

Greetings Tudor bloggers, Ive got an extremely odd question I just couldn't help but ask! My college professor was born on February 29th. So, its been getting me curious, did the concept of Leap Day birthdays exist back in this era, or is the technically aging only every 4 years thing that we sometimes joke about, a more modern concept? With gratitude, Samantha.


Anonymous said...

First, birthdays were not celebrated in the Tudor period in the same way that they are now. The more important day was the day of christening, or name day, which might fall several days or even weeks after the birth date.

The concept of a "leap year" or adding one day to the yearly calendar every four years has existed since the days of Julius Caesar. But the calendar in use in England until the end of the 1500s was the old Julian calendar, not the modern Gregorian calendar. The Roman calendar system was quite different from the modern system in that the descriptions of most dates were dependent upon certain other dates, rather than using numbers. For example, the Roman system had three major days within each month: the "Kalends" or first day of the month, the fifth day or "Nones" and the thirteenth day or "Ides." All other dates within the month were described to reflect how many days it was before the next major date. What is now called February 24 was known by the Romans as "ante diem sextum Kalendas Martias," or "six days before the Kalends of March." The "leap day" occurred as a second sixth day before the Kalends of March, or in modern terminology, February 24 lasted two days instead of one ("ante diem bis sextum Kalendas Martias").

By the 1500s, most dates were described using the liturgical or church calendar, or fixed feast days. The modern date of February 24 corresponded with St Matthias' Day (though St Matthias feast day was moved to May 14 beginning in 1969). But in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549, St Matthias' Day was on February 24 in normal years and on February 25 in leap years (since there were effectively two February 24ths in a leap year).

So, to answer your question more directly, a person born on February 24 (ante diem sextum Kalendas Martias) was said to be born on St Matthias's Day. His "birthday" would correspond to February 24 in non-leap years and to February 25 in leap years. In daily conversation, he would say, "I was born on St Matthias' Day" rather that "I was born on February 24." Thus there were no "leap birthdays" because the leap year added date of February 29 did not yet exist.

Samantha said...

Thanks for the response. I never knew this before, I just learned something new! Needless to say, the other day, my professor was amazed I knew so much about the history of his birthdate more than he himself did! 🤣