You might not be leaping for joy that this year is a Leap Year, but it’s an important part of preserving our calendar.
The calendar we use, the Gregorian calendar, has 365 days. However, it actually takes the earth 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds to complete its trip around the sun. This approximately six hour discrepancy might not seem like a big deal, but after only four years, the difference between the calendars adds up to a full day and after 100 years, the difference would be 24 days.
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But why add the extra day in February and not another month? The best explanation is that the Gregorian calendar is designed to keep the vernal equinox on or close to March 21 in order to keep the date of Easter correct in relation to it.
In addition to adding an extra day every four years, “leap seconds” are added every few years at the end of June or December in order to make up for the additional variation in seconds.
Leap Day occurs every fourth year, but if you have trouble keeping track of that, there are other mathematical equations related to the date. A leap year is always divisible by four and it is never divisible by 100 unless it is also divisible by 400 (so, 1000 was not a leap year, but 1200 was).
The most popular tradition surrounding Leap Day was popularized recently by the film, Leap Year, where the heroine travels to Ireland to propose to her boyfriend. In addition to allowing women to propose on Leap Day, tradition dictates that if the man refuses, he must console her with a kiss and either a silk gown or a pair of silk gloves.
In Scotland, a baby born on February 29 is believed to have bad luck and in Greece it is considered unlucky to marry on Leap Day (and preferable to not even marry during Leap Year). Leap Day is also St. Oswald’s day, an archbishop of York who died on February 29, 992.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the only verified example of a family producing three consecutive generations born on February 29 is that of the Keogh family. Peter Anthony was born in Ireland on February 29, 1940, while his son Peter Eric was born on the Leap Day in the United Kingdom (UK) in 1964. His daughter, Bethany Wealth, was, in turn, born in the UK on February 29, 1996.
A Norwegian family named Henriksen from Andenes holds the official record of number of children born on February 29. Mrs. Karin Henriksen gave birth to 3 children on consecutive February 29; her daughter Heidi in 1960 and her sons Olav and Leif-Martin in 1964 and 1968 respectively.
February 30 was a real date at one point in time in Sweden and the Soviet Union. However, the introduction of this date was temporary. In Sweden, February 30 resulted from an error with calendar conversion in the 18th century. About two centuries later, the Soviet revolutionary calendar featured February 30 as a result of an attempt to cut seven-day weeks into five-day weeks and to introduce 30-day months for every working month.
If your head is a little mixed up over the varying days in the months, you’re not alone; people have been looking for ways to remember the number of days and keep them straight since the 15th century as evidenced by this medieval rhyme:
Thirty days has November,
April, June, and September:
Of twenty-eight is but one,
And all the remnant is thirty-one.
Of course Leap year comes and stays,
Every four years got it right,
And twenty-eight is but twenty-nine.
Many variations of this rhyme remain, including the one found below:
Thirty days hath September
April, June, and November.
All the rest have Thirty-One,
– well, all the rest but one.
February only has twenty-eight,
and that’s just fine,
except for every fourth year,
when February has twenty-nine.
This and other information can be found at these websites: