The leap year’s extra day is really important because a complete orbit around the sun takes slightly longer than 365 days – 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds longer, to be exact.
In the past, people used a 355-day calendar with an extra 22-day month every two years. But in 45BC Julius Caesar told his astronomer, Sosigenes, to make things easier.
Sosigenes came up with the 365-day year with an extra day every four years to use up the extra hours. The extra day is added to February because it used to be the last month of the Roman calendar.
Date with destiny
The tradition of women proposing to men on February 29 is thought to date back to the 5th century. St Bridget complained to Patrick that women had to wait too long for men to propose.
St Patrick said women could propose on the single day in a leap year. Some say St Bridget immediately proposed to St Patrick, but he refused her.
Cost of rejection
In Denmark, if a man turns down a woman’s proposal on the leap year day, he must give her 12 pairs of gloves. In Finland, the man must give the woman fabric for a skirt if he rejects her.
Leaplings have their day
People born on February 29 are known as “leaplings” or “leapers”. There are five million leaplings around the world. But the chance of being born on a leap day is one in 1,461. In Hong Kong, the legal birthday of a leapling is March 1, but in New Zealand it’s February 28. If you took a flight from Hong Kong to New Zealand you could technically make your birthday last for three days!
Lots of countries believe a leap year is bad for the weather and crops. In Russia, people think a leap year brings more freak weather and a higher risk of death. Russian farmers say that beans and peas planted in a leap year “grow the wrong way”. Scottish farmers also think the leap year brings trouble. They say: “Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year” because they think the leap year is bad for both plants and animals.