11 Leap Year facts, traditions and myths

A leap year occurs once every four years and, although it is needed purely to keep our calendars accurate, there are many other traditions and ideas that surround the existence of February 29.

Why do we have a leap year?

A leap year is needed because Earth doesn’t complete one rotation of the sun in exactly one year. Yes, we always say there are 365 days in a year, but to be precise there are 365.2422 days!

This means it takes the earth 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds to get around the sun once.

Because earth is a little bit slower than we’d like at completing a lap of the sun, it makes a bit of a mess of our calendar. So nearly every four years we need to balance things out… cue February 29!

If we didn’t have a leap day, we would lose around six hours every year.

The calendar used to be even messier

Before Julius Caesar made changes to the calendar everyone followed a 355-day calendar. This meant that every two years a 22-day month had to be added to the calendar.

However this meant that special dates and events such as feasts were falling into the wrong seasons as the calendar fell out of sync. So Caesar ordered for a simplified calendar to be introduced. This came into being in 46 BC.

This is how the 365-day calendar with a February 29 nearly every four years was born.

Why does February have fewer days than all the other months?

When Julius Caesar ruled, February had 30 days.

It is thought the loss of February’s days is down to Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus who was jealous of the fact his predecessor Julius had 31 days in his month July, while Augustus’ month (August) had only 30.

To even things up he pinched days from February to top August up to 31.

The Ancient Egyptians noticed something wasn’t right first

They were the first to come up with a calendar based on earth’s revolutions around the sun, but they knew that there was something amiss with their system.

They would have to add an extra day every couple of years and eventually this was accepted as common practice.

Where did the tradition of women proposing on February 29 come from?

There are a number of stories behind this tradition.

One relates to St Bridget, who allegedly complained to St Patrick in the 5th century that women had to wait too long for a marriage proposal.

In response to her comment, St Patrick supposedly gave February 29 as the one day that women could propose to men on.

However there is also the story of Queen Margaret of Scotland who brought in a law to stop men refusing marriage proposals made by women on February 29.

This story has been disputed by people who claim she would have been five years old at the time the law was made and was in Norway, not Scotland.

It is widely believed the tradition dates back to the time when February 29 was not recognised by English law, and on such a day a woman could break with the custom of men proposing and do it herself.

What happens if your birthday is February 29?

Well, nothing. Commonly people born on a leap day simply choose to celebrate their birthday on February 28 or March 1 in non-leap years.

The only thing to watch out for is legal drinking and driving ages, as in the UK and most states of the US, they do not acknowledge the age-change until March 1.

However in Taiwan, New Zealand and some other countries, February 28 is considered to be the legal birthday.

The chance of being born on a leap day is 1 in 1,461.

Bad luck

In Greece it is considered bad luck to get married on a leap year. Many couples will hold off their vows until a non-leap year to ensure they do not cause bad luck for themselves.

Astrology

Astrologers believe Pisces born on February 29 have unusual talents and personalities as a result of their birth date.

This differs from the old belief that a child born on February 29 would be sickly and difficult to look after!

Leap Day Weddings

Traditionally, weddings are not held on a leap day. This is mainly due to English law which traditionally would not legally recognise a marriage that took place on February 29.

People generally avoided going to big events on February 29 too, believing it would bring bad luck.

Leap Year Maths

Every year that can be divided by four is a leap year.

However every year that can be divided by 100 is not a leap year… unless that year can also be divided by 400, in which case it is still a leap year.

This means that while the year 2000 was a leap year, the year 1900 was not!

No Birthday on Facebook

Friends of Facebook users with a birthday on February 29 don’t get notified to send their friend a birthday greeting when it isn’t a leap year.

According to Facebook users with a February 29 birthday, friends receive a reminder on February 28 that the birthday is ‘tomorrow’, but then the next day (March 1) Facebook doesn’t acknowledge it!

Were you born on February 29 or know of any unusual leap year facts? Share your stories with us now!

If you’re looking for a special gift, for someone celebrating a leap year birthday, or any other occasion, browse our range at The Personalised Gift Shop.