Leap Year © 2010 Universal Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Birnbaum/Barber, BenderSpink, Octagon Films
Most people know that Leap Day comes every four years, and serves as a way to even out the calendar, but there are also a lot of little-known facts about February 29. For example did you know that Leap Year can be skipped? That’s right. It typically occurs every four years, but that’s not a given.
How It Works
Let me explain. On average, it takes the sun about 365¼ days to orbit the sun. That’s why Leap Years are so scarce— it takes four years for the additional ¼ day each year to add up to one additional full day. So, the addition of February 29 to the calendar serves to even out the calendar and the solar calendar.
Simple enough, right?
Here’s the catch. Although Leap Years occur on an every-four-year basis, they aren’t quite that consistent. Though it happens very rarely, Leap Years can actually be skipped. Years that are evenly divisible by four, are usually Leap Years, but there is an exception. Leap Year I skipped on century years if they are divisible by 100, but the skip is nullified, yielding a Leap Year, on century years that are evenly divisible by 400. This serves to account for an additional 11 minutes each year (as the solar year actually breaks down to just over 365¼ days, by roughly 11 minutes.) So, the year 2000 was a Leap Year because, as 2000 is divisible by 400, its skip was nullified. The year 2100, however, will not be a Leap Year because it is divisible by 100, and not by 400.
Yeah, it’s a little complicated. If the math and science of it all don’t interest you, Check out some of Leap Year’s traditions.
Leap Day History and Traditions
The Irish have a tradition that, on Leap Day, a woman can propose to a man. Highly popularized by the 2010 film “Leap Year” starring Amy Adams and Mathew Goode, this tradition is believed to be rooted in the fifth century, when St. Brigid of Kildare complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait and wait for a proposal. St. Patrick them awarded women a day to propose, Feb. 29. Eventually, this tradition was taken to Scotland by a group of Scottish monks who had been in Ireland at the time. Allegedly, Queen Margaret of Scotland wrote a law stating that any man refusing a Leap Year proposal would be required to pay a fine. Some sources also say that Margaret required all women intending to propose on Leap Day to wear red petticoats when proposing. Historians have been unable to find Queen Margaret’s Leap Day laws, and many question their validity, as Margaret would have been only five years old at the time the laws were made.
Leap Day was not initially recognized by English law, so the English believed that it was entirely acceptable to break normal social constructs, like that of a man’s obligation to propose.
Tradition in many European countries, and law in the middle ages dictated that a man refusing a woman’s Leap Day proposal must buy her 12 pairs of gloves. As weird as this sounds, it’s actually a rather logical concept, as the gloves serve to cover the fingers in order to hide the lack of an engagement ring.
All in all, Leap Day is considered an unlucky day. In Scotland, Leap Day Births are considered unlucky, and in Greece, Leap Day and even Leap Year marriages are considered unlucky.
Leap Day Birthdays
The odds of being born on Leap Day are one in 1,461. (The 1,461 comes from the number of days that occur in four years plus one additional Leap Day.) With odds like these, it may seem like legal complications regarding Leap Day birthdays should be pretty rare, but there are approximately four million people with Leap Day birthdays worldwide, and even an Honor Society of Leap Year Babies. With so many Leap Day birthdays, the official birthday on off-years poses a legal question in terms of legal age. Though it varies by location, most places recognize Leap Day birthdays on March 1 when it comes to issues such as legal age for driving, drinking, etc. Leap Day babies are only able to celebrate their actual birthday on intervals of four, and few of these coming-of-age birthdays fall in that pattern (especially since the legal driving age is no longer 16.)