Leap year

February 28, 2012 at 10:05 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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A leap year (or intercalary or bissextile year) is a year containing one additional day (or, in the case of lunisolar calendars, a month) in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. Because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, a calendar that had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift with respect to the event it was supposed to track. By occasionally inserting (or intercalating) an additional day or month into the year, the drift can be corrected. A year that is not a leap year is called a common year.

For example, in the Gregorian calendar (a common solar calendar), February in a leap year has 29 days instead of the usual 28, so the year lasts 366 days instead of the usual 365. Similarly, in the Hebrew calendar (a lunisolar calendar), a 13th lunar month is added seven times every 19 years to the twelve lunar months in its common years to keep its calendar year from drifting through the seasons too rapidly.

A leap year is a year with an extra day (most commonly referred to as a “leap day“) in February, making it 29 days instead of 28 days. Leap years generally occur once every four years, the last being 2008 and the next being 2012.

The current system is:

Every 4th year starting with year 0 is a leap year
Except every 100th year, when it is not observed
Except every 400th year, when it is.

So 1900 was not a leap year, although the years 1896 and 1904 were. 2000, due to the “back in again” every 400 years, was a leap year

The system above was adopted in various countries at irregular intervals

In the British Isles, it is a tradition that women may propose marriage only on leap years. While it has been claimed that the tradition was initiated by Saint Patrick or Brigid of Kildare in 5th century Ireland, this is dubious, as the tradition has not been attested before the 19th century. Supposedly, 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; compensation ranged from a kiss to £1 to a silk gown, in order to soften the blow. In some places the tradition was tightened to restricting female proposals to the modern leap day, February 29, or to the medieval (bissextile) leap day, February 24.

According to Felten: “A play from the turn of the 17th century, ‘The Maydes Metamorphosis,’ has it that ‘this is leape year/women wear breeches.’ A few hundred years later, breeches wouldn’t do at all: Women looking to take advantage of their opportunity to pitch woo were expected to wear a scarlet petticoat—fair warning, if you will.”

In Denmark, the tradition is that women may propose on the bissextile leap day, February 24, and that refusal must be compensated with 12 pairs of gloves.

In Finland, the tradition is that if a man refuses a woman’s proposal on leap day, he should buy her the fabrics for a skirt.

In Greece, marriage in a leap year is considered unlucky. One in five engaged couples in Greece will plan to avoid getting married in a leap year.

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