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5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Leap Year

5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Leap Year

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This year is a leap year, which means that for the first time in four years, February had an extra day, February 29. But apart from the most obvious facts about leap year — it happens every four years and it makes the calendar year 366 days instead of 365 —  what do we actually know about Leap Day? To shed some much needed light on this convoluted calendar date, we’ve come up with the five most interesting facts about Leap Day (and year) to help you make sense of the added day when its the middle of fall and you’re wondering why on earth this year has felt so long.

Did Julius Caesar create the leap year?

In 46 BCE, Julius Caesar and the Greek astronomer Sosigenes reformed the traditional Roman calendar. Why? It had fallen out of sync with the seasons. To fix it, Sosigenes implemented the leap year which meant that every four years, the month of February would be prolonged by 24 hours. This one day extension would allow the calendar to re-align with the Earth’s rotation around the sun. But unfortunately, Sosigenes miscalculated a year’s duration, causing the then-called Julian calendar to fall out of alignment by 10 full days by 1577. This meant that several crucial Christian holidays would not be celebrated, forcing Pope Gregory XIII to revise the calendar once more. The upgraded calendar, now Gregorian, was implemented in 1582. This time around, the math was accurate, therefore allowing us to still use it today.

“Will you marry me, Luke?”

According to the Irish tradition, which was established in the 5th century, women were granted the freedom to propose on Leap Day — a privilege that has always traditionally belonged to men. At the time, a female’s proposal was revolutionary considering women’s rights were very slim, if not nonexistent. This custom was introduced by historical figure Saint Bridget, who complained to Saint Patrick that women had to wait too long for their suitor to pop the question. Therefore, Saint Patrick gave them one day of the year (every four years) to take things into their own hands – how generous. 

Throughout time, different cultures added their own flare to the Irish custom. In Denmark, if men refused a Leap Day proposal, they had to offer their supposed fiancées a dozen pair of gloves. In Finland, the rejector had to give the proposer enough fabric to make a skirt. In Greece, people considered leap year marriages to be a sign of bad luck. Why is that, who knows? But what’s certain is that Leap Day is a fun tradition to celebrate a bit of girl power, even if you aren’t planning on popping the question anytime soon. 

Why are Leap Day babies so special?

Approximately 4.8 million people have Leap Day birthdays — that’s 0.07% of the world’s population. It’s not surprising considering Leap Days occur once every four years. Due to Leap Day babies’ (LBDs) rarity, we gave them unique appellations: “leaplings,” “leapers,” or “twenty niners.” We also created The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, so that every 4 years, they can celebrate their birthday within a tight knit community. A few famous leapers and exclusive club members include rapper Ja Rule and actress Hattie McDaniel, who was the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar for best supporting actress in 1940. Who knew leaplings had a knack for the arts?

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Was Leap Day connected to the Salem Witch Trials?

Whoa, how did you know? February 29, 1962, was actually the date on which the Salem witch trials started. On this dark and gloomy day, the first arrest warrants were issued to the women who were believed to be witches. By the end of the paranoia-induced hearings, 20 innocent people had been wrongfully persecuted and executed.

Is there such a thing as a leap year capital?

There’s a leap year capital in the world which is, oddly enough, located in the U.S. (despite its strong European roots). Twin cities, Anthony, Texas and Anthony, New Mexico are the self-proclaimed leap year capitals of the world. They hold a four-day leap festival, which is basically a huge birthday bash for leaplings. The party hosts food and alcohol vendors, parades, tours and more, attracting thousand of LBDs from all over the globe. There’s no doubt that this festival makes Leap Day one to remember — even after four long years.

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