It’s February 29 – a day that only comes around once every 4 years, and we want to wish you a happy leap day! Have you ever wondered why February has an extra day every 4th year?
The History of Leap Day
It takes the earth 365.2422 days to travel all of the way around the sun. In order to get our current Gregorian calendar year in line with the solar year (the time it takes for the earth to orbit, or travel, around the sun), something had to be done with the almost 1/4 of a day that is left over. Because of this, it was decided that we needed to add an extra day every 4th year to the shortest month of the year, February (which was also the last month of the Roman calendar), rather than trying to somehow account for the fraction of the day every single year. Had leap day not been added to the calendar, we would lose approximately 6 hours every year. If you do the math, you would find that over 100 years, we would lose 24 days!
The Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582 and is still in use. Pope Gregory VIII decided that the earlier calendar introduced during Julius Ceasar’s reign was a bit too complicated. It was a 355 day year with an extra 22 day month every 2 years. Pope Gregory called for a revision which resulted in the calendar we all know today.
Women Propose on Leap Day
It is said that back long ago, St. Bridget complained because St. Patrick was taking too long to propose. Because of this, it was declared that the woman was given 1 day when she was allowed to propose, the last day of the shortest month. Others believe it was Queen Margret that declared February 29th a day for women to propose. Either way, it became a day known for women dropping to 1 knee and asking for their man’s hand in marriage. Today, it is predicted that 1 in 30 women will propose. Would you?
It was a bigger deal back then for the woman to propose marriage. Any refusal would result in a fine paid by the man in the form of a kiss, a silk dress, gloves, or a monetary fine. Historically, some countries have required the gloves for a turned down proposal fine so that the woman could hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring on her finger.
Leap Day/Year Superstitions
- In Greece, many believe getting married in a leap year is bad luck. 1 in 5 couples will wait for a non-leap year.
- Italians believe women are erratic during leap year, and they warn against planning any major life events during a leap year.
- In Russia, people believe that leap years bring abnormal weather patterns, strange growing seasons for crops, and even more death.
- “Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year” is a famous old Scottish proverb convincing farmers that livestock and crops are not going to do well every 4th year.
Knowing the history, maybe now you will now look at this added day as more than just another day. However, many will caution not to take the superstitions as more than old wives’ tales. February 29th is simply a day added to the 4th year to keep us on track with the natural orbit of the earth around the sun in order to keep time and seasons falling into their proper place on the calendar.
Happy Leap Day!