Happy Leap Day! When I realized that it was a leap year, and that leap day was on a Monday, I realized I had to do something about leap day, even if there wasn’t much. How could I resist? (Boy did I find some funny, but kinda awful at the same time, vintage leap day cards.) This probably won’t be terribly long, but like I said, how could I resist?
Leap years occur because each year isn’t actually 365 days. A year is closer to 365.25 days, and so every four years (more or less) we have to add a day to the calendar in order to keep everything in check. Without the day added, eventually holidays and seasons would be all out of whack. When we add a day to the calendar, this causes the date to jump a day the following year. For example, yesterday, February 28, was a Sunday. Next year, February 28 is a Tuesday. It “leapt over” Monday. This seems to be the agreed upon reason for why the day is called “leap day”.
Until the time of Julius Caesar, the year was 355 days. Every two years a whole 22 day month was added. Caesar had the astronomer Sosigenes develop a new calendar. This new calendar was adjusted by Pope Gregory XIII to be even more accurate.
In some calendars they still add a whole month; Hindu and Hebrew calendars add a month every three years on average. Other calendars have had extra, extra days; in 1700 Sweden also had a February 30. Sweden had been on their own calendar and was slowly moving over to the Gregorian calendar. When Sweden went to war at this time, though, they didn’t keep up with the slow move, and so had to add another extra day in 1700.
Since February 29 only occurs every four years (generally), people with leap day birthdays have to celebrate their birthday some other day. Most of the United States, the U.K., and Hong Kong use March 1 as the birthday in non-leap years. In China, Taiwan, and New Zealand they use February 28. People who have a leap day birthday are generally called leaplings. Personally, they can choose to celebrate their birthday every year, and pick a date, or have a birthday every four years (they’re recognized to have a birthday every year though, hence why different countries have different official dates for them). Back in 2012, Parks and Recreation did an episode for Jerry’s “Sweet 16” since he had a leap day birthday.
Most traditions involving leap day involve women proposing to men on the day. In Ireland the tradition is supposed to have been started by St. Patrick and/or Brigid of Kildare. Since they most likely never met, or if they did Brigid was about five, and that records of the tradition weren’t documented until the nineteenth century… That’s probably not where the tradition started. In Denmark, women were supposed to propose to men on February 24 of the leap year, not actually on leap day.
In England it was believed that anything that happened on leap day was acceptable since the day wasn’t officially recognized by English law. The day is also seen to be lucky, and it’s believed that anything started on a leap day will be successful. In Scotland it was unlucky to be born on a leap day. (It’s also called St. Oswald’s Day since he died on the day in 992.) Also in Scotland women were supposed to wear red petticoats, so men could see them, when they would propose to men.
In much of upper-class Europe there were traditions that men had to buy the woman something if they turned down the woman’s proposal. In some places the man had to buy her twelve pairs of gloves (possibly to cover up that she doesn’t have a ring on). In Finland the man had to buy the woman fabric for a skirt. In Greece it was viewed as unlucky to marry either on leap day or during the whole leap year.
More modern observations of leap day include: since 1980, the French satirical paper, La Bougie du Sapeur, which is only published on leap day; in 1988, Anthony, Texas declared itself the “leap year capital of the world”, even having a leapling birthday club; in some of the U.S. it has been seen as sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day, where gender roles could be reversed. Leap day has shown up on tv shows at least twice (I can think of two and I’m sure I don’t know of others). As mentioned earlier, Parks and Rec threw Jerry a sweet 16 back in 2012, and on 30 Rock we were introduced to Leap Day William.
That’s about it for leap day. There wasn’t a whole lot of varying information, and most of the traditional aspects are pretty much all just variations on the same theme. I don’t even have any links to add today since it’s basically all common knowledge. It’s a fun little day though. Make sure you wear your yellow and blue!