Monday is leap day
Nearly every four years, there is an extra day added to the calendar in the form of Feb. 29 – leap day. This year’s extra day will fall on Monday.
Leap day, according to the website EarthSky, is built into the calendar to ensure that it stays in line with Earth’s movement around the sun. While the modern calendar contains 365 days, the actual time it takes for Earth to orbit its star is slightly longer — roughly 365.2421 days.
The difference might not seem to be much, but over decades and centuries that missing quarter of a day per year can add up. To ensure consistency with the true astronomical year, it is necessary to periodically add in an extra day to make up the lost time and get the calendar back in synch with the heavens.
History of the ‘Leap’
The Egyptians were among the first to calculate the need for a leap year, but the practice didn’t arrive in Europe until the reign of the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, according to historians. Before then, the Roman calendar had operated on a muddled lunar model that regularly required adding an extra month to maintain celestial consistency.
Finally, in 46 B.C., Caesar and the astronomer Sosigenes revamped the Roman calendar to include 12 months and 365 days. Historians state that the “Julian Calendar” also accounted for the slightly longer solar year by adding a leap day every four years.
Caesar’s model helped realign the Roman calendar, but it had one small problem. Since the solar year is only .242 days longer than the calendar year and not an even .25, adding a leap year every four years actually leaves an annual surplus of roughly 11 minutes. This minute discrepancy meant that the Julian calendar drifted off course by one day every 128 years, and by the 14th century it had strayed 10 days off the solar year. To fix the glitch, Pope Gregory XIII instituted a revised “Gregorian Calendar” in 1582. In this model, leap years occur every four years except for years evenly divisible by 100 and not by 400. For example, the year 1900 was not a leap year because it was divisible by 100, but not 400. The Pope’s updated calendar remains in use to this day, but it’s still not perfect — experts note that the remaining discrepancies will need to be addressed in around 10,000 years.
Leap day customs and traditions
Since being introduced over 2000 years ago by Julius Caesar, the day has gained many traditions, folklore and superstitions.
Women propose to men. 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.
Gloves hide naked ring finger. 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 Feb. 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.
Leap Day babies world record. People born on Feb. 29 are all invited to join “The Honor society of Leap Year Day Babies.”
When do Leap Day babies celebrate their birthdays?
According to the Guinness Book of Records, there are leap day world record holders both of a family producing three consecutive generations born on Feb. 29 and of the number of children born on Feb. 29 in the same family.
Unlucky in love. In Scotland, it used to be considered unlucky for someone to be born on leap day, just as Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day by many. Greeks consider it unlucky for couples to marry during a leap year, and especially on leap day.
St. Oswald’s Day. Leap day is also St. Oswald’s Day, named after the archbishop of York who died on Feb. 29, 992. His memorial is celebrated on Feb. 29 during leap years and on Feb. 28 during common years.
Other calendars add a month for leap year. The Chinese calendar, Hebrew calendar and Hindu calendar all add an additional month or embolismic month to their calendar in accordance with the leap year. The Hebrew calendar adds its leap year month, Adar Alef, seven times every 19 years.
The Hindu calendar adds its extra month, Adhika, every two to three years to compensate for the 10-11 days that its calendar is off line with the actual solar year. The Chinese leap year month does not have a name and instead can be taken at different times in accordance with the winter solstice.
Many major events are aligned with leap years. The UEFA European Football Championship, Summer Olympic Games, United States Presidential Election and Winter Olympic Games (up until 1992) were all held on leap years. While there is no definitive reason why these events happen to only take place during leap years and it may be solely due to coincidence, they all help to make leap years particularly special.
Leap years have to be divisible by 400 at the end of the century. The year 1900 was not a leap year, but the year 2000 was. This difference comes from the need to account for the slight rounding error that occurs by counting each year as 365.25 days when it is actually 36.24. By skipping leap years on turns of the century that are not divisible by 400, the Gregorian calendar is able to compensate for the 11 minute loss of accuracy each year.