What Would Happen If We Got Rid of Leap Day?

You'd need to prepare your great-great-grandchildren to celebrate July 4th in a snowstorm, for one.

Since 1582, nearly every fourth February has included an extra day. February 29 (Leap Day) only occurs during leap years. The reason for Leap Day is simple. Because our planet takes about 365.25 days to make its yearly trek, a day must be added every four years to help calendars accurately reflect the solar year. Find out more about why we need leap years.

Leap Day is backed by science and centuries of tradition, but that doesn’t mean it is a perfect system. Aside from a lost second here or there, Leap Day almost fixes the problem of squeezing a full solar year into a 365-day calendar. But there are people who have devised different systems—both simpler and more complex ones—that they wish the world would give a fair shot.

Swapping Leap Day for Leap Week

Take Richard Henry, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He and economist Steve Hanke put their heads together to create the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, a masterpiece that allows each date to fall on the same day of the week each year.

Henry told Livescience.com, “It’s really incredible that in the Middle Ages, they were able to invent a new calendar that was so accurate,” but it frustrates him that people must buy new calendars each year. Holidays fall on different days of the week. Some, such as Easter or Thanksgiving, fall on different dates entirely.

Though Henry’s calendar would make business meetings and holidays easier—and it would likely irritate those whose birthday perpetually fell on a Monday—it wouldn’t solve the Leap Day problem. So instead of implementing a Leap Day every four years, the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar includes a “leap week” at the end of every fifth or sixth year. This would keep the calendar roughly in line with Earth’s rotation, according to Henry. Find out more about the International Fixed Calendar.

Losing Leap Day forever

Though calendar reformists have suggested changes over the years, hardly anyone dares to erase Leap Day entirely. Without accounting for the 5-hour, 48-minute, and 45-second difference between the calendar and the Earth’s journey each year, your days would slowly drift off course from the seasons. The calendar would become misaligned little by little, with frigid January weather in late spring or even early summer. The school year and vacation seasons would not be the same. Don’t miss these bizarre facts about February 29.

Leap Day: Almost a worldwide agreement

Almost every country in the world uses the standard Gregorian calendar, which includes Leap Days. So if the United States of America erased Leap Day from the calendar, it would slowly shift away from the seasons and holidays of every almost every other country on the globe. Straying off course in time would certainly cause a problem or two for travelers and international business workers.

According to Worldatlas.com, there are ten countries that still adhere to a non-Gregorian calendar, so the U.S. citizens who eschewed Leap Day wouldn’t be entirely alone—though they would certainly be in the minority.

Is a change coming?

It’s highly unlikely that the Gregorian calendar will change anytime soon. It has been around since 1582, after all! Even if leaders around the world agree to a calendar change, they would still need to account for Earth’s 365.25-day journey each year. Whether a new calendar would include another Leap Day or a Leap Week would be up for debate among the world’s astronomers, timekeepers, and politicians. No one knows who gets to make the final call—and which countries would follow suit if a new calendar was proposed. For now, it’s probably safe to buy Gregorian calendars for the next several decades. Want to know how to make the most of your extra day? Consider one of these 16 Leap Year date ideas.

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Leandra Beabout
Leandra is a lifestyle writer covering health, travel, and literature. A former high school English teacher, she covers books, words, and grammar for RD.com. When she’s not on deadline, you can find her curled up with a new library book or road-tripping through Europe or the American West.