2012 is a leap year and yesterday, February 29, was a leap day. So, just what is a leap year? What significance does a leap day have?
To answer these questions, I went to the ol’ trusty online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, and endeavored to learn more.
According to Wikipedia, a leap year contains one extra day to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year.
The article stated that “because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, a calendar that had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift with respect to the event it was supposed to track.”
Adding an extra day every four years corrects this problem of “drift” because the earth does not take exactly 365 days to go ’round the sun.
Of course, any event that occurs only every four years would have to be recognized by society at large. In that vein, a few cultural observances revolve around the occurrence of leap years. And funny enough, these leap year traditions involve marriage proposals and a whole wardrobe of “fines” for refusing said proposals!
In the British Isles, there was a tradition that women could propose marriage to men only on leap years. It is said that a 1288 law, imposed by Queen Margaret of Scotland, required that fines be incurred if a gentleman refused a marriage proposal by a woman. Such fines ranged from a kiss to a silk gown.
In Denmark, women could also propose on the bissextile leap day, February 24. If a man refused, he should provide the love-lorn woman with 12 pairs of gloves.
In Finland, fabric for a skirt would be purchased if a man refused a woman’s marriage proposal.
In Greece, the superstitious avoid leap year marriages because they are considered unlucky.
And finally, did you know that a baby born on February 29-a leap day–is called a “leapling” or a “leaper?” These lucky individuals only celebrate their actual birth date every four years. During the majority of years, birthdays are celebrated on either February 28 or March 1.
Other leap year events include the summer Olympics and the United States Presidential election. After all, there are some things we just wouldn’t want to organize and endure every year!