Like many world holidays, Leap Day is celebrated in very different ways in different places, and with a tradition so old and so much a part of our lives, there are definitely some Leap Day facts and folklores that might surprise.
In the United States and the UK, Leap Day is February 29th in accordance with the 400 year cycle of the Gregorian calendar. In countries that adhere to the initial adoption of the day by its predecessor, the Julian calendar, Leap Day is actually February 24th. In still other countries, like those in the Middle East, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, an entirely different type of calendar called a lunisolar calendar is used, and Leap Day doesn’t exist at all. In these places, Leap Year is observed through the addition to the calendar of a whole extra month!
The reason that we need to have a Leap Day at all, is actually scientific moreso than superstitious. As we all know, the Gregorian calendar common to most Western countries consists of 365 days each year. The problem with that though, is that it actually takes the earth about 365.24 days to complete a full revolution around the sun. So, in order to fix this anomaly so that we don’t fall behind in our measuring of time, we add an extra day every four years. Now, as you’ll notice, .24×4 doesn’t work out to a perfect 1, but rather to slightly less (.96). But don’t worry, because there’s actually a rule to accommodate that teensy overage (about .04) that’s unaccounted for. (This is where it gets a bit tricky.) To offset the build up in our 400 year Gregorian cycle of those little extra bits, an end-of-century year that isn’t evenly divisible by 400 won’t have a Leap Day. For example, 2000 has a leap day, but 1800, 1900, and 2100 don’t. That means that for every 400 year cycle, there are 97 Leap Days, rather than 100. That means that only about 1% of our time is unaccounted for. Pretty neat, huh?
So now let’s get to the fun part: the legends and traditions surrounding Leap Day. In Ireland and some other parts of the UK, it’s commonly accepted for a woman to make a marriage proposal to a man on Leap Day or during the entirety of Leap Year. There’s even a popular film about it called “Leap Year,” starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. The one thing the film gets wrong though about this tradition, (which is also celebrated to varying degrees in Scandinavia, France, and Germany), is that the man isn’t obligated to accept. In Denmark for example, a man who refuses a woman’s offer of marriage during leap year must buy her gloves, to cover the shame of her un-ringed finger. And in Ireland and Wales, the compensation varies widely by local custom, ranging from a kiss on the lips, cheeks, or ring finger, to a few Euro or Irish Pounds.
In the Mediterranean, marriage during a Leap Year is actually considered bad luck, and according to survey up to 20% of engaged couples in Greece will arrange or postpone their nuptials to avoid a Leap Year ceremony. The same may go for Leap Day birthdays amongst various cultures, although in most Western countries babies born on February 29th are considered blessed with luck.
For many people in the United States, Leap Day holds a special meaning. It’s an extra day that we’ve been given to do what we couldn’t accomplish during the rest of the year, or enjoy life to the fullest, remembering that every day is a gift. Just as with Friday the 13th, Halloween, equinoxes, or stacked dates (like 11/11/11), the mystery and superstition surrounding Leap Day may make several people more inclined to be pierced or tattooed on that day. This can be especially true for those looking to get a very first tattoo or piercing. But Leapsters beware; if the legal age for tattoos or piercings in your area is 16, and you’re planning to celebrate that particular milestone with a mod, you may have to wait until the day after your real birthday. One factor that will depend on the country or locality is what day a Leapling’s birthday will be legally celebrated via coming of age. In some places, like Hong Kong, the US, and most of the UK, the legal birthday is March 1st, while in others (like New Zealand and Republic of China), it’s February 28th.
There’s only one person known of who was both born and died on a Leap Day: Sir James Wilson, the Premier of Tasmania during the 1800s. Other famous persons who have been born on a Leap Day include actress Dinah Shore, baseball great Al Rosen, legendary burlesque performer Tempest Storm, motivational speaker Tony Robbins, and actor Antonio Sabato Jr.