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Monday, February 29, 2016


Today is Leap Day, a day that comes around only once every four years. The ancient Egyptians figured out that a solar year didn't exactly match up with a calendar year. So every so often an extra day was added to the calendar in order for it to play catch-up with the solar calendar. 

The ancient Romans were the first to add the day onto the end of February, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that the Gregorian calendar officially designated every fourth year as a Leap Year, as long as that year was divisible by four but not divisible by 100, unless the year was also divisible by 400. Because of this rule, 1900 was not a Leap Year but 2000 was.

Complicated, isn’t it? And pity the poor Leap Babies, also known as Leaplings, those children born on Leap Day each year. They only get to celebrate their official birthday once every four years. Not to mention if you’re paid an annual salary, you wind up working for free one day every four years.

The tradition of women romantically pursuing men is said to hearken back to ancient Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait for proposals from men. She complained long enough and loud enough that St. Patrick finally set aside February 29th as a day when women were allowed to propose to men.

The tradition was eventually brought over to Scotland, and in 1288 Queen Margaret declared February 29th as a day when women had the right to propose to men.

Both of these stories are most likely apocryphal. St. Bridget and St. Patrick may have met, but Bridget would only have been about ten years old when St. Patrick died, and in 1288 Queen Margaret was five years old.

However, both of these traditions were probably the basis for America’s Sadie Hawkins Day, created by cartoonist Al Capp in his L’il Abner comic strip. Sadie and other women in the town of Dogpatch were literally allowed to run after and capture the men of their dreams one day a year during the Sadie Hawkins Day race. In Dogpatch that day was in November, though, not February 29th. The custom has since made its way into many schools which hold Sadie Hawkins Day dances each year where the girls ask the boys to the dance.

Leap Year also plays a major role in Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. Frederic is mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate king until his twenty-first birthday, but poor Frederic is a Leapling, with his twenty-first birthday not occurring until he’s in his eighties. So he must serve another sixty-three years before being able to marry his true love. 

Luckily, today's men and women aren't bound by such archaic rules and customs. 


Angela Adams said...

"Not to mention if you’re paid an annual salary, you wind up working for free one day every four years." -- I never realized this...bummer.


Neither did I until I started researching Leap Year, Angela. Bummer, indeed!

M. Johnston said...

Loved all the tidbits I had never read that Feb 29 babies were called Leaplings (poor Frederic).


Thanks for stopping by, M.