It only happens once every four years, and it’s coming in a few days. We’re talking about Leap Day! To prepare you for the extra day this year, we’ve compiled a few fun facts that you may not know. You can bring your new knowledge to the dinner table, outings with friends and impress your coworkers come Monday.
Let’s get the big question out of the way: Why do we have Leap Day? It’s meant to keep our calendar aligned with the sun’s revolutions. It takes the Earth 365.24 days to make a complete cycle around the sun.
Julius Caesar implemented the first Leap Day in his Julian calendar, adding an extra day every four years. Before then, people observed a 355-day calendar, adding an extra 22-day month every two years. Pope Gregory XIII fine-tuned the calendar, which we’ll discuss later.
According to Dr. Irv Bromberg of the University of Toronto (you can read his version of a calendar here), every fourth year being a Leap Year is just a rule of thumb. The 366-day year actually stems from a year that’s divisible by four, such as 2016, except when the year number is divisible by 100, in which the year must also be divisible by 400.
So what if we didn’t have the extra 24 hours once every four years? We’d lose about six hours every year, meaning after 100 years, our calendar would be off by roughly 24 days.
February 29 vs. February 31
It’s been said that 29 days in February came to be thanks to Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. He didn’t like that the month named after him (August) had just 29 days when Julius Caesar’s month (July) had 31.
“He pinched a couple of days for August to make it the same as July. It was poor old February that lost out,” said Ian Stewart, former Professor of Mathematics at Warwick University.
According to tradition, women are encouraged to propose on Leap Day. BBC writes that in the 5th Century, St. Bridget supposedly complained to St. Patrick that “women had to wait too long for their suitors to propose.” He then gave women a single day in Leap Year to get on one knee. So ladies, will you be brave enough to pop the question?
The odds of being born on February 29 is one in 1,461 and there are an estimated five million people, nicknamed “leapers.” While you may celebrate your sixth birthday when you’re truly 24 years old, there is an honor society where you can continuously celebrate. The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies has more than 10,000 members worldwide.
But what about having numerous family members born on the special day? Per Guinness World Record, the only verified family producing consecutive generations born on February 29 is the Keoghs. Peter Anthony (born in 1940), his son Peter Eric (born in 1964) and his granddaughter Bethany Wealth (born in 1996) all celebrate their birthdays infrequently every four years.
Leap Year Events
There have been a lot of Leap Years throughout history. So what are some significant events that have happened during the 366-day year? In 1876, George Armstrong Custer fought the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Gold was discovered in California in 1848. Oh, and Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning is electricity (1752) and the Titanic sank (1912). Turns out Leap Years have been pretty eventful.
Do you know anyone born on Leap Day? What will you be doing to commemorate your extra day this year? Let us know in the comments below.