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It's a leap year but why do we have them? Where did they come from and why can women propose on February 29?

We will have an extra day in February in 2016, but why is it a leap year? And where did the idea come from? Here's everything you need to know about the extra day this month

This year we will have an extra day in February, but why do we have leap years?

It's finally February and you might have seen that this year, instead of it being 28 days long, it's actually 29 as 2016 is a leap year.

But why do we have leap years? Where did they come from? And why is it deemed acceptable for women to propose when we have February 29?

Here is everything you need to know about leap years and the origins explained. Plus what happens if you're born on February 29 and it's not a leap year.

Why do we have leap years?

We have leap years nearly every four years, which means instead of having 365 days of the year we have 366.

The extra day is added to February as it is the shortest month of the year and so the leap day is on February 29.

Leap years are needed to align our modern day Gregorian calendar year with the solar year, or the length of time that it takes the Earth to complete its orbit around the sun. This takes around 365¼ days (officially 356.242).

This means that if we didn’t add an extra day every four years, we would lose around six hours from our calendar each year, and every 100 years, our calendar would be out of line by 24 days.

Where did the idea of leap years come from?

The Gregorian calendar is closely based on the Julian calendar which was introduced by Roman ruler Julius Caesar, but he only had one rule and that was that any year that was evenly divisible by 4 would be a leap year.

As the solar year is only .242 days longer than the calendar year, this led to too many leap days and so instead of the extra day falling on March 11, by the 16th Century it was falling on March 21.

In 1592, Pope Gregory XIII then adjusted the calendar to the Gregorian one that we know and use today. He moved the date of the additional leap day forward by 11 days and introduced the rule that a century year can only be a leap year if it is divisible by 400.

This solved the problem of having too many leap years.

Why do people say women can propose during a leap year?

One story, an old Irish legend, says that the tradition dates back to the 5th century when St Brigid complained that women had to wait a long time for men to ask for their hand in marriage.

She then made a deal with St Patrick that women could propose every four years on the extra leap day.

The first recorded female proposal was in Scotland in the 13th century, where it is said that a law was passed that stated that any man who refused a proposal on leap year must pay a fine or buy the woman 12 pairs of gloves.

This was so that she could wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.

If someone is born on February 29, what day do they celebrate their birthday on when it is not a leap year?

There are no set rules on when you should celebrate if you are a leap day baby. On non leap years, you could choose to have your birthday on either February 28 or March 1.



David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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