Happy Leap Day!

You all know makes 2016 special, right? It happens every four years (well, nearly every four years).

No, it’s not that 2016 is a Presidential Election year; it’s LEAP YEAR! Every four years, we add 1 day to the calendar at the end of February.

(I know…why couldn’t they have added the day to a summer month? Why prolong winter for even one day?)

Leap Years, however, are the practical solutions to a very real problem. There is an actual scientific reason we need to add an extra day to the calendar every 4 years.

Still, even though there is nothing mystical or magical about February 29, the idea of an “extra day” every four years, a date that simply doesn’t normally exist (as those who were born on February 29 can attest) can give rise to all sorts of superstitions and traditions.

  • According to an ancient Irish and Scottish tradition that dates back to the days of Saints Patrick and Bridget, on February 29, a woman may ask a man to marry her. If he refuses, he must give her an expensive gift.
  • The Scots also consider it unlucky to be born on February 29.
  • In Greece, it is unlucky to marry during a leap year but especially unlucky to marry on February 29. Approximately 1 in 5 engaged couples in Greece will avoid a leap-year wedding.
  • In British Common Law, February 29 used to have no legal standing. No official business could be begun or concluded on that day, no contracts signed, legislation passed or signed into law, etc. The day was “leapt over.” (Obviously, that is the origin of the term “Leap Year.”) 
  • Having February 29 as your birthday has no legal effect on important milestones like learning to drive, registering to vote, receiving Social Security, etc. In any non-leap year, the “Leap Baby” comes of age on March 1. 
  • February 29, 2016, is a Monday, and doesn’t an extra Monday just make people happier?

There’s a poem that rivals Beowulf as the oldest poem in the English language. It’s worth looking at since we need something to give this post an ELA slant. Our favorite version is:

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November.

All the rest have thirty-one,

no exceptions, but save one:

twenty-eight hath February,

but from this we still must vary

each four years when we do find

a small leap to twenty-nine.

So, the groundhog did not see his shadow this year, and it’s almost time to spring forward and lose an hour’s sleep, but those things have nothing to do with this. Leap Day is simply the resetting of the calendar so July 4 will always be a summer holiday, Thanksgiving will always coincide with the harvest, and April will always breed lilacs out of the dead land.

So enjoy your Leap Day, even if it does stick us with an extra Monday in winter. After all, it’s only once every four years!


Doug Grudzina is our New Product Specialist and our resident expert on holidays. He is responsible for developing College and Career Readiness: Writing, Multiple Critical Perspective Guides, Levels of Understanding, and dozens of our most popular products.