Here's all the facts you need to know about leap years (2023)

This year is a leap year, with 366 days instead of 365.

But do you know many of us will work a day for free in 2016? And that leap years don’t happen every four years?

Here are all the facts you need to know about leap year.

Why do we have leap years?

We have leap years nearly every four years, which means instead of having 365 days of the year we have 366.

The extra day is added to February as it is the shortest month of the year and so the leap day is on February 29.

Leap years are needed to align our modern day Gregorian calendar year with the solar year, or the length of time that it takes the Earth to complete its orbit around the sun. This takes around 365¼ days (officially 365.242).

This means that if we didn’t add an extra day every four years, we would lose around six hours from our calendar each year, and every 100 years, our calendar would be out of line by 24 days.

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The leap year’s extra day is vital because a complete orbit around the sun takes slightly longer than 365 days – 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds longer, to be exact.

At one time people observed a 355-day calendar with an extra 22-day month every two years. But in 45BC Julius Caesar ordered his astronomer, Sosigenes, to simplify things.

Sosigenes opted for the 365-day year with an extra day every four years to use up the extra hours.

The extra day is added to February because it used to be the last month of the Roman calendar.

The system was then fine-tuned by Pope Gregory XIII. He coined the term “leap year” and declared that a year that is divisible by 100, but not by 400, is not a leap year.

So 2000 was a leap year under the Gregorian calendar, as was 1600. But 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.

Why do people say women can propose during a leap year?

The tradition of women proposing on leap day is thought to date back to 5th-century Ireland when St Bridget complained to St Patrick that women had to wait too long for suitors to propose.

He then gave women a single day in a leap year to pop the question – the last day of the shortest month.

Legend has it that Brigid then dropped to a knee and proposed to Patrick that instant, but he refused, kissing her on the cheek and offering a silk gown to soften the blow.

Others believe the tradition originates from Scotland when Queen Margaret, then aged just five, declared in 1288 that a woman could propose to any man she liked on February 29.

But what if the man says no?

Queen Margaret reportedly ruled that men who refused the proposal would need to pay a fine in the form of a kiss, a silk dress, a pair of gloves or a fine of one pound.

To give suitors fair warning – and possibly a chance to escape – a woman was required to wear breeches or a scarlet petticoats on the day of the proposal.

The first recorded female proposal was in Scotland in the 13th century, where it is said that a law was passed that stated that any man who refused a proposal on leap year must pay a fine or buy the woman 12 pairs of gloves.

This was so that she could wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.

In Denmark, a man refusing a woman’s leap day proposal must give her 12 pairs of gloves, while in Finland it’s fabric for a skirt.

Superstitions surrounding Leap Years

One in five engaged couples in Greece avoid getting married in a leap year because they believe it’s bad luck.

In Italy legend has it that women are erratic during a leap year and several proverbs warn against planning important life events in a leap year. “Anno bisesto, anno funesto” means “leap year, doom year”.

In Russia it is believed a leap year is likely to bring more freak weather patterns and a greater risk of death all round. Farming folklore says beans and peas planted in a leap year “grow the wrong way”.

Scottish farmers believe leap years are not good for crops or livestock, thanks to the old proverb: “Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year.”

So do I get more in my pay packet?

Nope, sorry.

Workers paid fixed annual or monthly salaries essentially work for free on February 29 because wages are not usually calculated to account for the extra day.

And prisoners with one-year sentences must serve the extra day if the term crosses leap day.

Read more:'Workers are £2,000 a year worse off than before economic crash'

So what happens if you're born on February 29?

People born on February 29 are called “leaplings” or “leapers”. The chance of being born on a leap day is one in 1,461. There are five million leaplings around the world.

For centuries, astrologers believed children born on leap day have unusual talents, unique personalities and even special powers. The poet Lord Byron was born on a leap day, as were rapper Ja Rule and footballer Darren Ambrose.

When do leaplings celebrate their birthday?

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 timed it right, flying from one country to the other you could enjoy the world’s longest birthday.

However, there are no set rules on when you should celebrate if you are a leap day baby.

On non-leap years, you could choose to have your birthday on either February 28 or March 1

Some leaplings have also died on a leap day. They include James Milne Wilson, the eighth premier of Tasmania, who was born on February 29 1812 and died on February 29 1880.

How is Leap Day celebrated?

The town of Anthony in Texas, US, is the self-proclaimed “Leap Year Capital of the World”. It holds a festival which includes a guided trip to Aztec Cave, “fun at the horse farm” and square dancing.

This year’s festival runs from today to February 29.

Leap Day record holders

The record for the most generations born on leap day is held by the Keogh family in Ireland and UK.

Peter Anthony Keogh was born on leap day in 1940 in Ireland, his son Peter Eric came into the world on February 29 1964 in the UK and a granddaughter, Bethany Wealth on leap day in 1996.

Karin Henriksen of Norway holds the world record for giving birth to the most children on consecutive leap days. Her daughter Heidi was born on February 29 1960, followed by son Olav in 1964 and son Lief-Martin in 1968.

How do other calendars do it?

In the traditional Chinese calendar (and in the Hebrew and Hindu calendars) a whole leap month, rather than just a day, is added to the year.

This is known as an embolismic month.

They believe that children born in a leap month are harder to bring up. They are also reluctant to start a business in a leap year.

In Taiwan, married daughters traditionally return home during the leap month as it is believed the lunar month can bring bad health to parents.

The daughters are told to bring pig trotter noodles to wish them good health and good fortune.

Leap Day

The Leap Day is in:






Here's all the facts you need to know about leap years? ›

Technically, It's Not Every Four Years

As a result, there's a leap year every year that is divisible by four, but to qualify, century years (those that end in 00) must also be divisible by 400. So, the year 2000 was a leap year, but the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.

What is the truth about leap year? ›

Technically, It's Not Every Four Years

As a result, there's a leap year every year that is divisible by four, but to qualify, century years (those that end in 00) must also be divisible by 400. So, the year 2000 was a leap year, but the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.

What happens if you are born on February 29 legally? ›

In non-leap years, that day is March 1. So for someone born on February 29, the first day they can legally drive, vote, join the Army, buy alcohol or start collecting Social Security is presumably March 1 in non-leap years.

How rare is a leap year birthday? ›

The chances of being born on leap day are so rare that less than 0.1 percent of the world's population is born on February 29. Our calendar's need for a leap day every four years can be confusing, but leap day is extremely necessary.

What are the 3 rules for leap years? ›

What is a leap year? To be a leap year, the year number must be divisible by four – except for end-of-century years, which must be divisible by 400. This means that the year 2000 was a leap year, although 1900 was not. 2024, 2028, 2032 and 2036 are all leap years.

What are the myths about leap years? ›

Leap Day is bad luck

Some cultures avoid getting married on a leap year as they are seen as bad luck. Italian proverbs warn women that leap years are likely to make them erratic and urge them to avoid making any big life decisions until the leap year has ended.

Does leap year affect your age? ›

2020: You're 2 years old, and the Leap Day math does not apply to your age until the next Leap Year in 2024, where you'll be 4 years old and 1 in Leap Day years. 2023: Technically still a newborn until the next Leap Year in 2024 (as mentioned in the line above!).

What is the legal birthday for leap year babies? ›

Those born on that day don't always get to celebrate their actual birthday — since that date occurs only every four years. Someone born on Leap Day typically celebrates birthdays on Feb. 28 or March 1 but identification and important documents show a birthdate of Feb. 29.

Which birth month is the most rare to be born in? ›

According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Social Security Administration (SSA), the rarest month to be born in is February, making Aquarius the rarest zodiac sign.

Why is February 29 the rarest birthday? ›

What is the rarest birthday? The least common birthday is leap day, or February 29. But because the day only occurs once every four years, it's obvious it would yield the least amount of birthdays. The rarest birthday of the 365 annual calendar days is Christmas Day, Dec. 25.

Is there a day where no one was born? ›

Is there a day no one was born? February 3rd is the only day where no one in history has ever been born. Despite much scientific study, there is no explanation for this phenomena. Historically it has been referred to as "the empty day" or "nobody's birthday".

What is the rarest birthday? ›

The least common birthdays in the U.S. interestingly all hover around major holidays. December 25 (Christmas Day) is the least common birthday, while January 1 (New Year's Day) is the second least common.

Who is the oldest leap year baby? ›

This is a list of people who born on leap day (29 February), which happens every four years, who lived at to least 108, or in their terms 27 years old. Mary Norris, the oldest validated person ever to be born on 29 February.

What happens if you marry in leap year? ›

It is unlucky to get married on a leap year, or tie the knot on a leap day! The Greeks and Italians believe that marrying on a leap day will lead to bad luck. The Greeks believe that most marriages celebrating that anniversary will lead to divorce.

Which Cannot be a leap year? ›

Hence, 700 is not a leap year. Note: Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year, if it is not a century. Every 4th century is a leap year, but no other century is a leap year. 800,1200 and 2000 comes in the category of 4th century (such as 400, 800,1200,1600, 2000 etc).

Why is it called a leap year? ›

The term leap year probably comes from the fact that a fixed date in the Gregorian calendar normally advances one day of the week from one year to the next, but the day of the week in the 12 months following the leap day (from 1 March through 28 February of the following year) will advance two days due to the extra day ...

Why do we skip a leap year every 400 years? ›

Over time, these extra 44+ minutes would also cause the seasons to drift in our calendar. For this reason, not every four years is a leap year. The rule is that if the year is divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400, leap year is skipped.

What is the main reason for leap year? ›

The Short Answer:

It takes approximately 365.25 days for Earth to orbit the Sun — a solar year. We usually round the days in a calendar year to 365. To make up for the missing partial day, we add one day to our calendar approximately every four years. That is a leap year.

Why isn t 2023 a leap year? ›

Every four years, an additional day is added to the month of February, which makes 29 February is a Leap Year. However, 2023 is not a Leap Year, as this year February ends on Tuesday 28. The Gregorian calendar usually has 365 days, but in a Leap Year, it has 366 days.

Why do we divide leap year by 400? ›

To remedy this, Pope Gregory XIII introduced in 1582 a slightly modified version of the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar, where century years are leap years only if they are divisible by 400. This eliminates 3 of the 4 end-of-century years in a 400-year period.


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