Leap Year Lies, Myths and Traditions
The time has come for our small planet’s time keeping system to quite literally make up time. February 29th – the world’s make-up-time day – is once again upon us.
Basically, the earth doesn’t track with our neatly-created calendar system. It operates on it’s own schedule. So, over the millennia, astronomers and scientists have attempted to correct for this. Since it takes the earth 365.2422 days to complete its orbit about the sun, the accumulation of those 0.2422 days need to be factored back into our calendar. Back in 46BC, Julius Caesar decreed that a full extra day be added to February every fourth year to compensate for the quarter-day gains. Consequently, every year that is divisible by four became a leap year, making the average length of the calendar 365.25 days.
Some refer to February 29th as a leap day.
The year that holds the leap day is known as the leap year.
But why “leap”. One explanation goes as follows.
In a regular 365-day year – the equivalent of 52 weeks and one day – if your birthday fell on a Monday, it would fall on a Tuesday in the following year. However, in a year when a leap day falls between your last birthday – say a Tuesday – and your next birthday, you would need to add two days to your 52-week year which would make your birthday fall on a Thursday (leaping over the Wednesday). Hence the name “leap year”.
For the most part, societies and cultures don’t think too highly of leap years. There seem to be more negative connotations associated with the “extra day” than there are positive.
🇮🇹 Apparently Italians have a saying that goes “anno bisesto, anno funesto” or “leap year, gloomy year” (or “sad year, fatal year”!). So planning anything in that year – and certainly on a leap day – may well be setting ones self up for gloom. Adding an extra day to an already gloomy year must surely have been adding insult to injury! I’m not Italian, so fortunately that doesn’t apply to me.
🇷🇺 As for the Russians, they apparently associate it with freak weather and a higher risk of death. Go figure – it’s still winter in Russia in February, isn’t that what one would expect from a Russian winter?
🇹🇼 I understand that Taiwanese parents have a mild paranoia that they are more likely to die in a leap year. Why, you might ask? I have no idea. The consequence, though, is that a married daughter is expected to return home to her parents during leap month, bringing with her pig trotter noodles. This wishes them good health and fortune. I couldn’t verify this with any Taiwanese people because I don’t know any, but that’s where I’ll leave that belief for now. Pity the parents who have no daughters.
The Scotts apparently believe leap years are bad for their livestock, hence the saying “leap year was never a good sheep year”. They also believed those born on a leap day would live a life of untold suffering. How morbid is that?
🇬🇷 The Greeks are reported as having a superstition that there was a high probability that any marriages that took place in a leap year would end in divorce.
🇩🇪 In the Rhineland region of Germany, young boys who have a shine for a girl, apparently place a small ribbon-decorated birch tree in the back yard or on the front doorstep of their crush on the eve of May Day, 30th of April. In a leap year, girls are allowed to then do the same.
Which brings us to arguably the most well known tradition of them all: the reverse-proposal.
Will You …?
For centuries it has been the tradition that men propose to women, asking them for their hand in marriage. In a leap year, however, this stereotype was allowed to be reversed with women taking the plunge and asking that stubborn, unmoving – and sometimes unsuspecting – man, who had caught her eye, to consider tying the knot.
🇩🇰 In Denmark, the price for spurning a maiden who popped the question was 12 pairs of gloves. Apparently this was so that she could hide the embarrassment of still having a ringless finger!
🇫🇮 In Finland, the shunned lady was entitled to enough fabric to make a new shirt.
With Valentine’s Day having been checked off the calendar only two weeks prior, there must certainly have been a few anxious men who’d not had the courage to propose on the 14th who could only wonder what the 29th would bring.
Could There Be More Fun To Be Had?
All of these superstitions and beliefs seem to err on the side of gloom. Surely a slightly different perspective could see us enjoying and embracing the day rather than despising it?
With Leap Day 2020 falling on a weekend, isn’t it perhaps the ideal opportunity to do something unique, something fun, something to celebrate or commemorate the day? After all, it is a bonus day, the cumulative investment of part-days that you’ve missed out on for the past three years.
Here are a few suggestions.
Do an activity you’d not normally do:
- go for a cycle ride;
- go for a hike;
- climb a mountain to enjoy the view;
- visit a theme park and take that roller coaster ride you’ve been avoiding;
- get a family selfie or formal portrait taken;
- plant a tree or shrub in commemoration of the day (perhaps not suitable for those living in the frozen north!)
Make a difference to someone else:
- visit family;
- visit a friend;
- visit the elderly;
- visit someone who is housebound;
- offer to do something for someone;
- volunteer at a community shelter or service;
- do a random act of kindness … on the street, in a grocery store, at a restaurant;
- clear out and donate your excess gently-used clothing and clutter
- sleep in;
- visit a spa;
- read a book;
- go shopping;
- bring home that well-considered pet (assuming you will take care of it and not send it into foster care before St Patrick’s Day!);
- plan your next vacation