11 Things You Might Not Know About Leap Year

Screwing up birthdays since the days of Julius Caesar …

Left: By Camillo Rusconi (1658–1728); photograph de:User:Rsuessbr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=526632. Right: By Bob Satterfield - Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1903-12-23/ed-1/seq-3/), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32324725

Left: Detail of the tomb of Pope Gregory XIII celebrating the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, by Camillo Rusconi (1658–1728); photograph Rsuessbr, CC BY-SA 3.0; Right: Cartoon by Bob SatterfieldTacoma Times, Public Domain.

Happy February 29th, also known as “leap day” — a lunar event created by humans to compensate for the fact that the earth doesn’t orbit the sun in precisely 365 days. Herewith, trivia attending this grand occasion.

1. A leap year is also known as an “intercalary year” and a “bissextile year,” which sounds more exciting than it is.

2. The name “leap” comes from the fact that while ordinarily a given date will progress from one day to the next each year (i.e., if March 1st is a Tuesday this year, it will be a Wednesday next year), in “leap years” the date will “leap” across to the following day of the year.

3. The Gregorian calendar, named for Pope Gregory XIII and introduced in 1582, refined the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE) by adjusting to have years evenly divisible by 100 not be leap years, except for those evenly divisible by 400. Jeez, who thinks about this stuff?

4. Church folk, it turns out. Pope Gregory (or his calendar-minders) was trying to keep the spring equinox, which dictates the date on which Easter falls, from creeping gradually into the summer.

5. The Chinese calendar has a leap month instead of a leap day, as does the Hebrew calendar. Such calendars are known as lunisolar.

6. The tradition that women can propose to men in leap years originated in Ireland and England. According to folk history, in 1288 Queen Margaret of Scotland passed a law declaring that a man who declined such a proposal had to pay the woman a pair of leather gloves, one pound, a rose and a kiss.

7. In Finland, a man who declines such a proposal must buy his suitor fabric for a skirt.

8. In Greece, it’s considered unlucky to marry in a leap year.

By Pablo Moldes - https://www.flickr.com/photos/elcromaticom/14157821766, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47212200

2012 edition of La Bougie Du Sapeur, photo | Pablo Moldes, CC BY 2.0.

9. In France, the humorous newspaper La Bougie Du Sapeur (“The Soldier’s Candle”) is published only on February 29th, every leap year. It’s the world’s least frequently published newspaper. Subscriptions are available for 100 euros per century.

10. A person born on February 29th is called a “leapling” or “leaper.” In Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, Frederic the pirate apprentice, born on a leap day, is appalled to discover he’ll be required to serve his pirate masters until he is 84 rather than 21.

11. The Summer Olympics have been held every leap year since 1896.

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