Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
And that has twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine in each leap year.
WHAT’S the deal about leap years? It so happens that the Earth takes 365 ¼ days to complete one rotation around the sun. But it would be a bit weird to factor in a quarter day into each year, wouldn’t it? The solution? Three years with 365 days and a 4th year, the leap year, with 366 days. That extra day becomes February 29 (leap day).
As might be expected, leap day being such a rarity, occurring only once every four years, my research shows there’s quite a bit of interesting information, history, folklore and superstitions surrounding it.
It is said that the odds less than one in 1,461 that a baby will be born on February 29. That’s even rarer than the odds of being born with 11 fingers and toes (one in 500).
Estimates put it at around four million such persons in existence today. They are given a special name called a “leapling” or “leap-year-baby.” Celebrating birthdays on February 29 can be challenging for leaplings. They have to choose between celebrating their birthdays every four years or on February 28 of March 1 on non-leap years.
In Hong Kong the legal birthday of a leapling is March 1 in common years, while in New Zealand it is February 28. If you time it right, flying from one country to the other could mean you legitimately enjoy the world’s longest birthday.
In England, there was a time when February 29 was ignored and had no legal status. In those days, women were not allowed to propose marriage to men. Since leap day existed to fix a problem with the earth’s calendar, it was reasoned it could fix that problem too. Women were then allowed on no other day but February 29 to pop the question to men. And they couldn’t refuse! In Scotland, there was even a time when a man refusing such a marriage proposal had to pay a fine in the form of a kiss, a silk dress, or 12 pairs of gloves to the rejected lady!
On the other hand, places like Greece see getting married on a leap year as a harbinger of bad luck. As such, one in five Greek couples will choose not to get married on leap years.
Russians believe that in leap years there is a greater likelihood of freak weather and a greater risk of death.
In Taiwan, married daughters traditionally return home to their parents on the leap month, as it is believed to bring bad health to their parents.
If you’re not Russian or Taiwanese, consider this: if you work for a fixed salary, every leap year you work a day for free!
It seems too that frogs are the unofficial leap day mascot. Frogs are a symbol of prosperity, abundance, wealth, friendship and good luck in many cultures. As such, leap day isn’t doom and gloom for everyone and is seen by many as a lucky day!
To all those awesome rare leaplings celebrating their birthdays on February 29, 2020 – HAPPY BIRTHDAY! YOU ROCK! And don’t forget to divide your age by four!
© Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney – client relationship. For legal advice, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly.