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As the calendar flips to February 29, 2024, for many, it’s just another Thursday. Yet, beneath the surface lies a day veiled in superstitions and historical intrigue—the leap year. Before delving into its mystique, let’s uncover the significance and captivating history behind this extraordinary occurrence.

What is leap day and why is 2024 special?

Leap Day occurs once every four years, making 2024 a leap year. This rare occurrence adds an extra day, February 29, to our calendars, creating a unique event that breaks the usual yearly cycle.

Why do we have leap days every four years?

The Earth’s orbit around the sun takes approximately 365.242190 days, creating a fractional discrepancy. To account for this, leap days are added every four years. If not for this adjustment, seasonal shifts would occur, impacting agriculture and other aspects of life. The leap day helps align the calendar with the Earth’s orbit.

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When was the last leap year, and when will the next one occur?

The last leap years were in 2020 and 2016. After 2024, the subsequent leap years are expected in 2028, 2032, and 2036.

Who coined the leap day concept?

Leap days have a long history and have been used in various calendars. According to the historical references, Julius Caesar adopted the idea from the Egyptians, who already had a leap year every four years.

Caesar introduced an extra day to February every four years, creating the Julian calendar in 45 BCE. However, this system had a slight error, overestimating the solar year by 11 minutes.

In the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII refined the calendar, introducing the Gregorian calendar. This version maintained leap days every four years but excluded them during centurial years not divisible by 400. This corrected the Julian calendar’s miscalculation and is why we skipped leap years in 1700, 1800, and 1900 but not in 2000.

What is special about leap day?

Leap day babies, born on February 29, experience fewer birthdays, just once every four years. Some view this rarity as the secret to eternal youth. Approximately 5 million people worldwide share this unique leap birthday out of the global population of around 8 billion, according to an AP report.

There are also many superstitions in different parts of the world oriented towards the leap day traditions:

Ireland: In Ireland, lead day is known as Bachelor’s Day or Ladies Privilege, women can propose to men on February 29. Some variations suggest that only a ‘Yes’ answer is allowed, while others claim the man can decline but must buy a gift for his admirer.

Greek Customs: In Greek customs, marrying during a leap year, especially on leap day, is considered unlucky, and it’s believed to increase the likelihood of divorce.

Scotland: In Scotland, there’s a belief that individuals born on a leap day will face a life filled with hardships. Some superstitions also associate leap years with increased deaths and consider it an unfortunate year for farmers.

Taiwan: In Taiwan, a unique tradition during leap years involves married daughters returning home with a special dish – pig trotter noodles. It is believed that elderly parents are more susceptible to passing away every four years, and serving this noodle dish is seen as conveying wishes for good health and fortune. The soup is specifically served on February 29, ensuring the parents enjoy it throughout the month.

France: In France, a distinct tradition unfolds every four years on February 29 – the publication of La Bougie du Sapeur. This special newspaper has been a tradition since 1980 and is named after the leaping character Sapper Camember from an old French comic strip. Available in France, Luxembourg, and Belgium, the newspaper sees significant sales on stands during this exclusive leap year occurrence.


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