Leap Day: It’s one in 1,461

Kelly Byer

Feb. 29 comes once every four years

Leap day is an unofficial, usually unobserved, underdog holiday that keeps seasons in their place but rarely receives recognition.

“I think in general, it passes unnoticed,” said May Fung, a graduate student studying translation. She said she thinks the leap year system doesn’t make peoples’ lives harder or easier, and therefore, doesn’t really affect them.

While leap day might not directly impact students, other than providing an extra day to do with what they please, it plays a crucial role in keeping the calendar accurate and also provides a source for superstitions and other trivial tidbits of information.


In 46 BC, Julius Caesar created the first leap day by adding Feb. 29 every four years to his Julian calendar. Since it takes 365.2422 days for the earth to orbit the sun and there are only 365 days in a calendar year, the extra day was meant to make the calendar more accurate. But Caesar’s change made the calendar years too long and by the 16th century, created a 10-day difference from the actual time. Pope Gregory the XIII dealt with the problem by creating the Gregorian calendar, which had a leap year every four years unless the year was divisible by 100. But if the year is also divisible by 400, it is an exception to the law. So, 1900 wasn’t a leap year and 2100 won’t be either.

Traditions and Superstitions

• “The Ladies Privilege” – This custom allowed women to propose marriage to men, back when only the man could propose. In some versions, the tradition can be applied throughout the whole year, but in most, it applies only to a leap day. Men had to accept a proposal or repay the woman in some way. Other versions say a man would have bad luck if he refused, unless the woman proposing didn’t wear a visible scarlet flannel petticoat. The custom’s origins are unknown, but one theory is set in Ireland. When St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women not being able to propose to men, St. Patrick offered Feb. 29 for that purpose.

Leap Day Cocktail

Harry Craddock created this cocktail for leap year celebrations at the Savoy Hotel, London, on Feb. 29, 1928, according to Gary Regan’s book “The Joy of Mixology.” “The Savoy Cocktail Book” says the drink has caused more proposals than any other cocktail.

• 2 ounces gin.

• 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.

• 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.

• 1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.

• 1 lemon twist, for garnish.

• Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

Source: http://www.gumbopages.com/food/beverages/leap-year.html

• Greek Marriage Superstition – In Greek superstition, couples married during a leap year will have bad luck.

• Good Fortune – A leap year, and especially leap day, are superstitiously known for being good times to begin important tasks or business projects, and those born on Feb. 29 supposedly have good fortune.

World Wide Leap Year Festival

This leap year marks the 6th Worldwide Leap Year Festival in the city of Anthony, located on the border of Texas and New Mexico – the Leap Year Capital of the World. From Feb. 28 to March 2, the community and guests celebrate with games, a parade, hot air balloon rides and a birthday dinner complete with cake. The small border town has hosted the festival since 1988, when Mary Ann Brown, who was born on leap day, suggested the Anthony Chamber of Commerce sponsor a leap year festival to promote the community and recognize the special day.

A leap day, a birthday.

“‘Wow, you are so smart for your age,’ ‘You look so old for your age’ or ‘So, when you are like 60, you will only be like 20!'” are common reactions to discovering a person has a leap day birthday, said Amanda Klag, sophomore early childhood education major, in an e-mail interview. About one person in 1,461 is born on a leap day, according to CBC Archives, and Klag is one of them. When people learn this, she said she is asked a lot of questions, including when she celebrates her birthday, which she observes Feb. 28 on non-leap years.

Famous People Born Feb. 29

1468 – Pope Paul III

The last Renaissance pope (1534-1549).

1908 – Edward B. Taylor

Photographer who documented Dayton, Ohio’s African American culture for nearly 40 years. He was Dayton’s first black commercial photographer.

1924 – Al Rosen

Ballplayer, Cleveland’s 3rd baseman.

1972- Dave Williams

Lead singer of Drowning Pool (d. 2002).

1976- Ja Rule

Rapper and Actor.

Source: http://www.leapzine.com/FamousLeapies.htm

“It makes sense to me to celebrate it that way because my birthday isn’t in March, so why celebrate March 1?” Klag said. She said she usually doesn’t do anything special to celebrate but has a family tradition of going out to dinner.

When Goodyear gave free blimp rides to the first 50 leap day babies and one guest, Klag said she and her dad arrived at 5 a.m. to stand in an already growing line.

“And get this, the girl in front of me was the 50th person!” Klag said. But about the next 10 people in line got a tour of where the blimp was kept and watched it land. “It was pretty cool,” she said.

Sources: CBC Archives, Snopes.com, Anagnosis Books, LeapYearCapital.com

Contact features correspondent Kelly Byer

at [email protected].