"Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one
Excepting February alone
Which has twenty-eight days, clear,
And twenty-nine in each leap year."

February 29 is a bissextile - the day added to the Gregorian calendar to account for the difference between a solar year, and the typical 365 day calendar year. Over your lifetime, you will see this leap day occur approximately once every 1461 days (once every 4 years). However, over the course of history, Feb 29 actually occurs less frequently - about once every 1506 days. This is because a year is only a leap year if it is:

  • divisible by 4 and not divisible by 100
  • it is divisible by 400

For this reason 1900 was not a leap year, but 2000 was. Over the course of 400 years, this means that there are 97 instead of 100 occurrences of February 29. For information on how all of this started, check out Gregorian Calendar.

Interesting Facts about the Day

This Day in History

February 29 Birthdays

You may wonder when leap day babies celebrate their birthday. Some celebrate it on February 28, and some celebrate it on March 1. If it is not a leap year, for all legal purposes, it should be celebrated on March 1. Why? Try to get your drivers license when you are 15 going on 16, or try going out for a drink when you are 20 going on 21 when it is February 28 - they will tell you to come back tomorrow. However, it's actually much more tricky than this. While everyone is having pity on these people with leap year births, no one thinks that they too have the same problem.

We all celebrate our birthdays incorrectly

What most people actually celebrate is their birth date. If you consider your birthday to be the day you turn another year older, then on average, you actually celebrate your birthday incorrectly 1/4 to 3/4 of the time (the longer you live, the closer it gets to 3/4). Since a year is 365.2425 days (or as we typically estimate it to 365.25), your birthday actually fluctuates in both date and time.

As an example, look at the first four years of the life of a baby born at noon on January 1, 2000 (a leap year).

       Assuming                (Incorrectly) Assuming
Age    365.2425 days/year      365.2500 days/year
00     2000-01-01 12:00:00     2000-01-01 12:00:00
01     2000-12-31 17:49:12     2000-12-31 18:00:00
02     2001-12-31 23:38:24     2002-01-01 00:00:00
03     2003-01-01 05:27:36     2003-01-01 06:00:00
04     2004-01-01 11:16:48     2004-01-01 12:00:00

You will notice in column 1, that not only does the date and time fluctuate, but the baby would celebrate two birthdays in one calendar year in 2000, and not have a birthday at all in 2002! A similar occurrence is seen in column 2. It is for this reason that we celebrate birth dates instead of birthdays. However, I digress: using the same logic as above, here is how someone born at noon on February 29, 2000 should celebrate their first 25 birthdays:

       Assuming                (Incorrectly) Assuming
Age    365.2425 days/year      365.2500 days/year
00     2000-02-29 12:00:00     2000-02-29 12:00:00
01     2001-02-28 17:49:12     2001-02-28 18:00:00
02     2002-02-28 23:38:24     2002-03-01 00:00:00
03     2003-03-01 05:27:36     2003-03-01 06:00:00
04     2004-02-29 11:16:48     2004-02-29 12:00:00
05     2005-02-28 17:06:00     2005-02-28 18:00:00
06     2006-02-28 22:55:12     2006-03-01 00:00:00
07     2007-03-01 04:44:24     2007-03-01 06:00:00
08     2008-02-29 10:33:36     2008-02-29 12:00:00
09     2009-02-28 16:22:48     2009-02-28 18:00:00
10     2010-02-28 22:12:00     2010-03-01 00:00:00
11     2011-03-01 04:01:12     2011-03-01 06:00:00
12     2012-02-29 09:50:24     2012-02-29 12:00:00
13     2013-02-28 15:39:36     2013-02-28 18:00:00
14     2014-02-28 21:28:48     2014-03-01 00:00:00
15     2015-03-01 03:18:00     2015-03-01 06:00:00
16     2016-02-29 09:07:12     2016-02-29 12:00:00
17     2017-02-28 14:56:24     2017-02-28 18:00:00
18     2018-02-28 20:45:36     2018-03-01 00:00:00
19     2019-03-01 02:34:48     2019-03-01 06:00:00
20     2020-02-29 08:24:00     2020-02-29 12:00:00
21     2021-02-28 14:13:12     2021-02-28 18:00:00
22     2022-02-28 20:02:24     2022-03-01 00:00:00
23     2023-03-01 01:51:36     2023-03-01 06:00:00
24     2024-02-29 07:40:48     2024-02-29 12:00:00
25     2025-02-28 13:30:00     2025-02-28 18:00:00

If you couldn't tell, the date format above is YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss (using 24 hour time)

Famous Births

A Myth

In the 5th Century AD, the world was a rapidly changing place. Groups of Angles and Saxons were leisurely picking through whatever goodies the Romans had left behind, and wondering if that damn wall had really been worth all the effort. A little further away, Attila the Hun was enjoying a moment of quiet contemplation over how he might like to redecorate the Coliseum, and a lot further away, people all over the Western Hemisphere were going happily about their business never having heard of any of this.

And one day, a very nice young woman in Ireland finally decided she'd had one too many unwanted marriage proposals.

"Yeah, well, what do you want me to do about it?" St. Patrick asked, in words to that effect.

"Well," St. Bridget responded, in the modern vernacular, "why not let us have a whack at it?"

"What, women? Proposing?"


St. Patrick thought this over.

"Alright," he said, after a moment. "Tell you what. You can have one day a year."

And St. Bridget smiled. So St. Patrick took another moment.

"Out of every four. Starting today."

As the legend goes, that day was February 29th, and St. Bridget proposed on the spot.

A More Believable Myth

Naturally, the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on St. Bridget doesn't mention this gender-role reversing tidbit of apocrypha. But medieval Europe certainly had its rules regarding courtship, and tradition held that only men were allowed to propose.

Women all over the Continent and in Scotland particularly spent another seven hundred years or so complaining about this fact, when it is widely believed that legislation regarding socially acceptable, non-emasculating female marriage proposal was finally put to parchment. The earliest remembered if unrecovered record occurs in the Leap Year Act, allegedly passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1288. It wasn't supposed to have given carte blanche to the ladies in terms of picking the Big Day, but set aside the whole of the Leap Year as fair ground.

Preliminary research offers the following wording for the Act's most salient feature:

Ordonit that during ye reign of her maist blisset Majestie Margaret, ilka maiden ladee of baith high and lowe estait shall hae liberte to bespoke ye man she likes - albeit he refuses to talk he shall be mulcted in ye sum ane pundis or less.

I can't cut through much of the spelling or brogue, and don't at all want to touch upon ane pundis, but Margaret, Maid of Norway happened to be enjoying the second of her four years on the Scottish throne at the time the act was passed, and for what it's worth, Scotland didn't have another queen until Mary in 1542.

In the elapsed time, those insecure Scotsmen--say nothing of skirts, you--managed to amend the accepted interpretation of the act back to its supposed 5th Century Irish origins, from all of Leap Year to just Leap Year Day--giving them 365 extra days to hedge and squirm without fear of a preemptive strike.

A Warning

For those men among you thinking this is a fantastic tradition to revive and enjoy in this modern age, I warn that scholarly research into the subject suggests the actual existence of any such act is unlikely at best--so your near-wife's legal precedent is probably a sham, and you're not off the hook to drop to one knee.

If it does hold up in court, though, mythological add-ons at least try to make it interesting. One version insists that any women premeditating a marriage had to wear a scarlet petticoat with a clearly visible hem, so that ambivalent or lifelong bachelors could see them coming a fair distance off and amscray. All versions--as the quotation suggests--mandate that if the gentleman isn't able to execute successfully an avoidance strategy and manages to get himself proposed to, failure to accept the proposal could result in a fine. The snubber was obliged to give the snubbed anything from 100 pounds to a silk dress, money to buy a silk dress, or a really decent pair of gloves.

Small price to pay for escaping an unwanted marriage, and much less than a woman commonly had to give up to enter one.

In modern Britain, it seems, the tradition persists to this day, something along the lines of the all-too-American Sadie Hawkins Day. And true to form, the American version comes from a comic strip dating all the way back to 1937.

One might think that I came across this in the course of idle research about an imminent subject, but no. I was told by my lovely and charming English paramour, who just might be getting a jump--or rather, a leap--on a fine old British tradition.

Bouquets to:

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