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Leap Years - the reason behind February the 29th

Leap Year2016 is a “Leap Year”, which means that it has 366 days instead of the usual 365 days that an ordinary year has. An extra day is added in a leap year  - February 29 - which is called an intercalary day or a leap day.

Leap years are added to the calendar to keep it working properly. The 365 days of the annual calendar are meant to match up with the solar year. A solar year is the time it takes the Earth to complete its orbit around the Sun — about one year. But the actual time it takes for the Earth to travel around the Sun is in fact a little longer than that - about 365 ¼ days (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds, to be precise). So the calendar and the solar year don't completely match. It may not seem like much of a difference, but after a few years those extra quarter days in the solar year begin to add up. After four years, for example, the four extra quarter days would make the calendar fall behind the solar year by about a day. Over the course of a century, the difference between the solar year and the calendar year would become 25 days! So every four years a leap day is added to the calendar to allow it to catch up to the solar year.

The Egyptians were the first to come up with the idea of adding a leap day once every four years to keep the calendar in sync with the solar year. Later, the Romans adopted this solution for their calendar, and they became the first to designate February 29th as the leap day.


5 Interesting Facts about Leap Years:

1. Women can make a marriage proposition

Since the 19th century, tradition has stated that women have the right to propose to a man on February 29th. In times where gender roles were more concrete than today, this was considered a very unique and bold thing to do. The practice dates all the way back to 1288 where the tradition was first observed in Scotland. In recent years, the tradition has become more playful with the concept of the Sadie Hawkings Dance, where young girls ask boys to accompany them to the event.


2. The odds of being born a “leaper”

There is 1 in 1,461 chance of being born on February 29th and those special people are referred to as "leapers" and are said to possess unique talents and even special powers! If you are born on February 29th, then most countries consider either 28th February or March 1st as the official day. However, purists choose to stick to the 29th February and only celebrate once every 4 years, keeping young!


3. The leap year capital of the world in Texas

In 1988, the town of Anthony, Texas, with a population of 8000, declared itself to be the  “Leap Year Capital of the World”. Its justification for this title was that two members of its Chamber of Commerce were born on leap year days. But in a moment of honesty a member of the Chamber also admitted that, "We just voted arbitrarily to name this as the leap year capital of the world because no one else has.”


4. La Bougie du Sapeur - a French newspaper for the 29th of February

At newsstands across France on February 29th, readers delight to a humorous broadsheet published every four years on leap day, they look forward to their copy of La Bougie du Sapeur, published since 1980. It is a satirical journal, now in its ninth edition. Its title, which translates as "sapper's candle," is taken from an old French comic-book figure who was born on the fateful last day of February.


5. Leap Year - superstitions and rhymes

In many southern European countries leap years are simply considered as harbingers of bad luck, particularly when it comes to farming and fertility. A whole host of Italian proverbs such as anno bisesto, anno funesto (literally leap year, doom year) warn against planning certain activities for a leap year, for example anno che bisesta non si sposa e non s’innesta (in a leap year you don’t get married and you don’t graft), since anno bisesto tutte le donne senza sesto (in a leap year, women are erratic). Oddly enough, however, coins minted during a leap year are considered to be lucky charms!


Date Created: 29/02/2016

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