The year is 2016, and any calendar enthusiasts among you will be aware that today doesn’t normally exist. Ignore the fact that it means we’re all working an extra day without pay – the leap day is actually quite useful. The scientific reason involves the time it takes for the Earth to complete its orbit around the sun. Because it actually takes around 365.25 days for the Earth to make its orbit, our traditional 365 day calendar would eventually be out of sync. In fact, after just 100 years the calendar would be off by approximately 25 days! The extra quarter of a day that it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun creates the need for a leap year every four years.
There’s plenty of strange myths and superstitions regarding the leap year, so to commemorate this special day we take a look at three interesting leap year traditions.
What Did the Romans Ever Do for Us?
Well, it turns out they gave us leap years. The original Roman calendar – commissioned by Julius Caesar – contained not 365 days but 355. Over time, the calendar became wildly out of sync with the seasons. Caesar had his priests devise a new calendar, but they made a mistake and only attributed a leap year for every three years. The story goes that Caesar’s successor, Augustus, corrected the calendar so that a leap year occurred every four years. It seems Augustus wasn’t scared to mess around with the calendar – apparently he later stole a day from February and attached it to his namesake month (August) to make it as long as Caesar’s month (July). So that’s why February is 28 days long, except in a leap year.
Much is made of the leap year tradition that allows women to propose to men. But where did it come from? Theories abound, from the suggestion that it was merely a marketing invention that has since taken off, to the belief that St. Bridget of 5th century Ireland appealed to St. Patrick to give women the chance to ask their shy male admirers to marry. Regardless of its origin, this is a tradition which refuses to disappear.
Leap Year Leaplings and Leapers
Born on February 29th? There’s a name for people like you. These ‘Leaplings’ or ‘Leapers’ often choose to celebrate their birthdays on the 28th February or the 1st March. Personally, we’d probably try to claim we were much younger than we really were — after all, if you only have a birthday once every four years… Another common superstition claims that ‘Leaplings’ possess special powers. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific evidence to support this.
See you in four years!