Back in England, I have a friend of my generation who will celebrate her 13th birthday this Saturday. She is a leapling. She was born in a leap year so her ‘official’ birthday of February 29 only happens every four years, so amazingly she seems about my age! She was a classmate in school, and I remember her parents used to overcompensate every February 28 on non-leap years to make sure she didn’t feel left out. Did you know that leap day babies are described as leaplings, leapers, or leapsters and, upon providing proof of their date of birth these people can join the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies? This free society was created in 1997 to raise awareness for leaplings and boasts approximately 10,000 members.
So, why do we have leap years and when did it all start? Thousands of years ago, astronomers realized that a tropical year was approximately 365 1⁄4 days in length. In 45BC, Julius Caesar, Emperor of Rome, introduced his ‘Julian’ calendar, which we still use today and which includes an extra day every four years. As February is a short month with only 28 days, it is logical that this is the time chosen for us to enjoy the gift of an extra day. On Saturday this week, we ‘get back’ the extra day so that we remain in tune with the earth’s revolutions around the sun. Leap years are technically known as “intercalary” or “bissextile” years, with all other years simply described as “common” years.
Traditions around leap year day, February 29, appear to have started many centuries ago. Of course, the most famous of these is the tradition that women are “allowed” to propose marriage to men on this day. This legend originates from Ireland when St Brigid struck a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men every four years. This is believed to have been introduced to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how leap day balances the calendar. In some places, leap day has been known as “Bachelors’ Day” for the same reason. A man was expected to pay a penalty, such as purchasing an expensive silk dress or making a gift of money, if he refused a marriage proposal from a woman on Leap Day. Interestingly, in many European countries, there was even a law in the middle ages which stated that a man who refused a woman’s proposal on February 29 had to buy her twelve pairs of gloves. This was so that the gloves could be worn by the rejected lady for the next 12 months to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring!
Some of the more obscure facts or traditions around Leap Day include:
- The Scottish used to think it unlucky to be born on a leap day – similar to the tradition of Friday 13th being considered an unlucky date
- The Greeks believe that it is unlucky for couples to marry during a leap year and especially on February 29th
- In England, leap day is also known as St Oswald’s Day, after the archbishop of York who died on February 29, more than a thousand years ago
- February 29 is also Rare Disease Day, aimed at raising awareness and improving access to treatment and medical representation for individuals with rare diseases, and support for their families.
- The modern Olympics are always held in a leap year
- Here in the USA, the Presidential elections take place every leap year. Personally I think all the campaigning lasts long enough without giving it an extra day!
If you want to really celebrate this occasion, visit the ‘Leap Year Capital of the World’ – the city of Anthony which straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. In 1988, the Governors of both states decided to issue a joint proclamation naming the city as party-central for leaplings. The town organizes a four-day festival including a big birthday party for leap day babies!
There is much more information at www.timeanddate.com
I will leave you with a 250-year-old quote from “Poor Robin’s Almanac”, an English 17th and 18th-century satirical almanac series. “This is Leap Year, and ancient proverbs say, if lads don’t leap this year, the lasses may!”
God Bless America and enjoy your extra day this leap year!
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Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com