For a day that only comes around (roughly) once every four year, we certainly don’t make much of a fuss about Leap Day. And what a shame! There’s a ton of rich history and tradition packed into this 24-hour timespan.
Before February 29, 2016 rolls around tomorrow, read up on these 10 leap year facts that explain how different cultures and time periods have been dealing with that extra day on the calendar for centuries. How much do you already know?
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Fact #1: Leap day hasn’t been around forever
It takes the Earth 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds to orbit the sun. So every year we’re accumulating a teensy bit of extra time, which could throw off our clocks and daylight hours if it’s not eventually corrected.
Way back when, years used to be 355 days in length with an extra 22-day month every two years to fix the issue. But when Julius Caesar became emperor, he wanted a less confusing approach and enlisted his astronomer Sosigenes to create one. Thus the 365-day year, with a leap day every four years, was born around 46 B.C.
Fact #2: Leap year doesn’t technically occur every four years
So, surprise! A leap year occurs every fourth year, but only with some small caveats. So, maybe it’s better to think about leap years this way: the last two digits of the year must be divisible by four, except for centuries, which must be divisible by 400. So, when we celebrated the new millennium in 2000? Leap year. Our next century-mark, 2100, will not have that bonus day. You can thank Pope Gregory XIII for these final changes.
Fact #3: Leap day babies are inducted into a special society
It’s the rarest birthday of them all, with odds of being born on February 29th falling at 1 in 1,461. However, if you only have a birthday every four years, you are eligible for the Honor Society of Leap Day Babies — with 10,000 members across the globe.
Fact #4: Leap day also observes another important day
Since the February 29th is a “rare” date, it’s also home to Rare Disease Day, which began in 2008 to raise awareness for diseases affecting less than 1 in 2,000 people. But don’t worry — should it not be a leap year, the observance is simply held in the last day of February.
Fact #5: According to Irish lore, women can propose to men on leap day
You may have seen the cute romantic-comedy Leap Year with Amy Adams, right? The film isn’t entirely fictitious. Although the origin story is still widely debated, St. Brigid is said to have protested to St. Patrick back in the 5th century that women should not have to wait so long for men to pop the question — so the old man set aside one day every four years that ladies could propose to men. In the UK, some jewelers and retailers even dole out discounts for women who are planning to observe tradition.
Fact #6: According to European tradition, men must pay if they refuse a proposal
If a man turns down a woman’s proposal on Leap Day, they don’t get off scot-free. As traditions out of Europe typically go, they pay in gloves — to cover that ring finger that won’t be sporting a diamond or a band.
Fact #7: According to yet other customs, the day carries a dose of bad luck
Bad luck, eh? Some think the 29th ushers it in. There’s an old Scottish saying that goes, “Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year.” In Greece, there are a slew of couples that actively avoid marrying in a leap year, since legend says it’s bad luck.
Fact #8: In the past, workers have advocated for leap day to become a bank holiday
Over the years, some clever members of the world’s workforce have realized that they’re working an extra day every leap year without extra pay. This has prompted a legit campaign to make February 29th a bank holiday. It only makes sense, right?
Fact #9: One important set of literary characters don’t observe leap years
While leap day helps keep our orbital timeline on track, some literary characters definitely don’t seem to need it. J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits have a calendar that includes a 30-day February each and every year. Suppose time functions slightly different in Middle Earth?
Fact #10: Leap day has an official cocktail, should you want to toast the 29th
Concocted by a London bartender in 1928, the Leap Day Cocktail is supposed to usher in more proposals than any other drink you could possibly mix. It’s a blend of lemon juice, gin, Grand Marnier, and sweet vermouth. Cheers!life / 10 Leap Year Facts We Bet You Didn’t Know!