Leap Year gives us an extra day in February
Published 12:17 pm Friday, February 2, 2024
Time flies, especially in February, the shortest month. But every four years (with one exception), we get a reprieve with a bonus Leap Day on February 29. When we have a leap year, the calendar lengthens to 366 days to solve an age-old quandary: the fact that it takes 365.2422 days, not an even 365, for the Earth to complete its orbit around the sun.
Without a Leap Day, we would lose 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds every year. Seriously, we want our time back, which is why February 29 is also celebrated as National Time Refund Day. But even more important, leap years keep our calendar aligned with the solar calendar and seasonal cues like the spring equinox. Without leap years, our calendar and the seasons would gradually drift out of sync at the rate of 24 days per century (Christmas in July, anyone?).
The rule is that a year is considered a leap year if it is divisible by four, except for years that are divisible by 100. However, if a year is divisible by 400, then it is still considered a leap year. For example, the year 2000 was a leap year, but the year 2100 will not be.
Leap Day, on February 29, has been a day of traditions, folklore and superstitions ever since Leap Years were first introduced by Julius Caesar over 2000 years ago.
According to an old Irish legend, or possibly history, St Brigid struck a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men – and not just the other way around – every four years.
This is believed to have been introduced to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how leap day balances the calendar.
In some places, leap day has been known as “Bachelors’ Day” for the same reason. A man was expected to pay a penalty, such as a gown or money, if he refused a marriage proposal from a woman on Leap Day.
In many European countries, especially in the upper classes of society, tradition dictates that any man who refuses a woman’s proposal on February 29 has to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring. During the middle ages there were laws governing this tradition.
While women are certainly capable of asking a man for his hand in marriage on any day of the year that she so wishes, traditionally in Ireland, this right was reserved specifically for the Leap Year.
Here in the United States, the tradition was also celebrated with some people referring to February 29 as Sadie Hawkins’ Day. On this allotted day of the four-year cycle, women, allegedly, have the right to run after unmarried men to propose. Sadie Hawkins was a female character in the Al Capp comic strip “Li’l Abner” who inspired Sadie Hawkins Dances where girls would ask boys to attend.
Be warned, if you’re going to give this old tradition a go, it can go just as wrong for women as it can for men…
In some countries, like Greece, people warn against planning weddings during leap years.
Many companies don’t recognize Leap Day as a “valid day.” They make leapers choose February 28 or March 1 as their birthday instead.
Those born Feb. 29 don’t always get to celebrate their actual birthday — since that date occurs only every four years. But not to worry, someone born on Leap Day still gets to celebrate a birthday. Someone born on Leap Day typically celebrates birthdays on Feb. 28 or March 1. But Feb. 29 is still used for identification and important documents.
For most, February 29 is just another day on the calendar…but since it happens only every four years, that makes it special.