By Margaret Mitschke*
While February is famously known for Valentine’s Day and National African American History Month, there are many other official holidays and reasons to celebrate the second month of the year. This second blog of the “National Days in February” Blog Series is about Leap Year Day on February 29th.
Leap Year History
Prior to the calendar we know today, the ancient Roman calendar system was in place, and actually only had 355 days in a year. At that time, the way that Roman officials made the calendar system line up with the seasons was by adding an extra month every so often. This method was changed by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., who consulted with astronomers and decided to add just one day, Leap Day, every four years.
However, this did not completely solve the problem. Caesar’s calendar year was roughly 11 minutes short of an actual solar year, or the time it takes for the Earth to actually make one complete orbit around the sun. By the 16th century, the calendar was off by 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII made changes to the Julian calendar in 1582, and created the calendar we use today.
The current Georgian calendar actually does not call for a leap year every four year. The precise rules state that a leap year will occur in “years divisible by four, except for those divisible by 100, and not divisible by 400”. Basically, 97 out of every 400 years are leap years, however 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300, and 2500 are not leap years.
- Over 4.1 million people worldwide have been born on February 29th;
- Those born on leap day are known as “leaplings” or “leapers”’; and
- According to British tradition, a leap day is the only day of the year a woman can propose marriage to a man – this became the basis for Sadie Hawkins Day (a pseudo-holiday) in the US, and Sadie Hawkins dances, where girls ask boys to attend.