Having Leap of faith for unique day

For a day that only comes every four years, Leap Day has spawned a remarkable number of traditions and beliefs.

Before Leap Year customs and folklore can be understood, it is good to be acquainted with the reason that it exists. In both the Julian and Gregorian calendars, the addition of an extra day every four years was done as a corrective measure, to compensate for the fact that the earth does not orbit the sun in exactly 365 days.

In Julius Caesar’s revised calendar, a leap day was inserted every fourth year. However, that “Leap Day” was a second Feb. 24. According to Wikipedia, there were two days numbered 24 February and, for legal purposes, they were considered to be a single day.

The Gregorian Calendar, which is the calendar used in most parts of the world, officially added Feb. 29 every four years, which we have come to know as Leap Day. Throughout the centuries, this addition has always been seen as a special day and has spawned many special practices.

Probably the best-known of these is the Celtic tradition that on Leap Day, a woman can propose marriage to a man. This practice was the basis for the 2010 film “Leap Year,” starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode.

While this tradition dates back to the 5th century in Ireland, it became a popular practice in Scotland, Finland, and parts of the United Kingdom. According to legend, Saint Bridget asked Saint Patrick if women might be given the opportunity to propose to men. They decided that once every four years, on Feb. 29, women could propose to men.

While the deal between St. Brigid and St. Patrick is not substantiated, there are records regarding women proposing to men, dating back to the 13th century. According to Wikipedia, “a 1288 law by Queen Margaret of Scotland (then age five and living in Norway), required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man. Proper compensation for refusal was deemed to be a pair of leather gloves, a single rose and a kiss.”

Other traditions also levied penalties for refusal of a proposal by a man on Leap Day. According to timeanddate.com, “In many European countries, especially in the upper classes of society, tradition dictates that any man who refuses a woman’s proposal on Feb. 29 has to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring. During the middle ages there were laws governing this tradition.”

Many cultures took a dim view of Leap Day. Greek tradition deems it unlucky to get married at any time during a leap year, and particularly on Leap Day, Leap Day is also considered unlucky in Scotland, particularly for those born on Feb. 29. In Germany, there is an old saying which translates to “Leap Year will be a cold year.”

Leap Day traditions and legends are not limited to Europe. In Taiwan, leap years are thought to be unlucky because many believe that elderly parents are more likely to die every four years.

In Hong Kong, a law was enacted in 1990 regarding babies born on Feb. 29. According to Wikipedia, in Hong Kong, “Where a person has been born on February 29 in a leap year, the relevant anniversary in any year other than a leap year shall be taken to be March 1.”

Even in the United States, Leap Year has produced a few traditions. A town in Texas established a self-proclaimed notoriety for Leap Year. According to Wikipedia, “In February 1988 the town of Anthony in Texas, declared itself ‘leap year capital of the world,’ and an international leapling birthday club was started.”

Furthermore, since 1792, presidential election years in the U.S. are also Leap Years.

Tradition aside, anyone born on Feb. 29, automatically gets membership into an exclusive club called the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. According to the Honor Society, “The group boasts a membership numbering more than 11,000 people with the goal of connecting leapers to one another across the globe.”

So . . . if you know a Leapling, Leaper, or Leap Year Day Baby, be sure to wish him or her a Happy Birthday this year.

David Prenatt is a reporter for the Westfield Republican.


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