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Leap Day – February 29

Leap day (February 29) is an intercalary day inserted in a leap year. Leap day has been associated with age-old traditions, superstitions and folklore. It is also recognized as a day of observances and celebrated as a birthday for those born on February 29.

Leap Day

Leap day, also known as leap year day, is an extra day added to the month of February in a leap year. February 29 is the 60th day of a leap year in the Gregorian calendar. It occurs every four years in years evenly divisible by four except for centenary years not divisible by 400.

A leap day is more likely to occur on Mondays or Wednesdays rather than other days because the Gregorian calendar repeats itself every 400 years. Therefore February 29 can occur 15 times on a Monday or Wednesday, 14 times on a Friday or Saturday and 13 times on a Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday.

Brief History of Leap Day

In ancient Rome, leap day was on February 24 due to February being the last month of the calendar. The original Roman calendar added an extra month every few years to maintain the correct seasonal changes. The Julian calendar was implemented in 45 BCE, resulting in a leap day being added to the end of February every four years.

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII refined the Julian calendar with a new rule that a century year is not a leap year unless it is evenly divisible by 400. The introduction of the Gregorian calendar was observed in some countries including Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. The conversion took longer for other countries such as Great Britain (1752) and Lithuania (1915).

Bride with wedding ring
According to tradition, women were allowed to propose to men during a leap year. ©iStockphoto.com/TriggerPhoto

Tradition, Folklore and Superstition

A tradition was introduced many centuries ago to allow women to propose to men during a leap year. This privilege of proposing was restricted to leap day in some areas. Leap day was sometimes known as “Bachelors’ Day”. A man was expected to pay a penalty, such as a gown or money, if he refused a marriage offer from a woman.

The tradition’s origin stemmed from an old Irish tale referring to St Bridget striking a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men every four years. This old custom was probably made to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how the leap day balances the calendar.

It was also considered to be unlucky for someone to be born on a leap day in Scotland and for couples to marry on a leap year, including on a leap day, in Greece.

Observances on February 29

Leap day is also St Oswald’s Day, named after a 10th century archbishop of York who died on February 29, 992. The feast is celebrated on February 29 during leap years and on February 28 in other years.

February 29 is one of the days of Ayyám-i-Há (February 26 to March 1) in the Bahá'í calendar. These days are dedicated to fasting preparations, charity, hospitality and gift-giving.

Leap Day Birthdays

Some people born on February 29 prefer to celebrate their birthday on February 28 in a non-leap year because they were born in February, while others celebrate their birthday on March 1 because they do not officially turn next age on February 28. There are also those who only celebrate their birthday every leap year because they believe there is no substitute to a February 29 birthday.

In some cases, their legal birthdays depend on the rules and regulations of where they live. Many countries make amendments for those born on leap days so they can be considered eligible for marriage, driving and other activities that require a legal age.

For example, each state or territory administers driver’s licenses in the United States. In South Carolina, one man received an extended driver’s license because February 29 was not in the calendar in a non-leap year. However in Maryland, one person waited for six months to get the driver’s license because the computer database did not recognize the February 29 birth date.

Some members of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies do not have the February 29 birth date on their driver’s licenses because their government agencies gave them a choice of only February 28 or March 1 as their license expiration date.

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