Every four years we get an extra day. That elusive February 29. The day usually passes without notice except for the leaplings (people who were born on February 29) who finally get to celebrate their real birthdays. Why don’t we celebrate leap day? Who doesn’t want an excuse for another celebration, especially in 2020 when leap day falls on a Saturday?
Why do we have a Leap Day?
We are all taught in school that it takes 365 days for Earth to revolve around the sun. In reality, it takes approximately 365 days and six hours for a full rotation. Leap day compensates for those missing six hours. Instead of making each year 365 days plus a few hours, every four years we add those 6 hours together to make 24 hours, giving us an extra day.
If we did not add that time, the calendar would not align with the seasons and push them later and later over time. Since it’s not exactly an extra six hours every year—it’s actually a little less than that—adding the extra day every four years was actually making the seasons too early. Specifically, there was a concern that Easter would not consistently fall near the vernal equinox.
When the Gregorian calendar was adopted, they added the “century rule,” which essentially says that years divisible by 100 will not have a leap day unless they are also divisible by 400. This is why we did have a leap day in 2000, but we will not have one in 2100. This change keeps the seasons aligned with the months of the year when they are supposed to occur.
What are historic Leap Day traditions?
- Women propose to men: In 2020, having a special day for this is an antiquated concept. But Irish legend says that St. Brigid struck a deal with St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men one day every four years to balance out traditional roles. If the man refused the proposal, the man was expected to buy the woman a silk gown or, later in history, a fur coat. In Ireland, this day was called Bachelor’s Day.
- Twelve pairs of gloves: This tradition is related to the proposal tradition. In many European countries, if a man refused a woman’s proposal, he had to buy her twelve pairs of gloves so she could cover up the fact that she did not wear an engagement ring. Again, an incredibly offensive idea in 2020, but in the middle ages, there were laws governing this tradition. In the United Kingdom, the gloves were given to the woman on Easter.
- Bad luck: In Scotland, it was considered bad luck to be born on leap day. In Greece, it was considered bad luck to get married on leap day.
Ideas to celebrate Leap Day in 2020:
- Have a day of “yes!”: Once every four years we can handle saying yes to everything our kids want to do. Provide some limits around how much money you are willing to spend, how far you are willing to travel, and make sure they know that everything has to be legal and age-appropriate. Then let your kids guide the day.
- Leap!: Play games that involve leaping and jumping like leapfrog or hopscotch. If you want to make it more of an outing, go to a trampoline park. Once you are tired out from leaping, watch the animated movie, Leap!
- Do the math: Have your kids figure out how old they would be if they only celebrated their birthdays every four years. For example, if they are eight with a non-leapling birthday, they would only be two if they were leaplings (you may have to help with any fractions). Then have them pretend they are leaplings and they are eight (in this example) because they only counted their birthdays every four years. How old would they really be (in this case, they would really be 32)?
- Frogs: Create a frog-themed day. Hide little toy frogs around the house and hold a scavenger hunt. Visit a local pond and look for frogs (if it isn’t too cold). If it is cold outside, you can make origami frogs. Finish the day by reading a children’s book focused on leap day and frogs including Leap’s Day, Leopold’s Long Awaited Leap Year Birthday or It’s My Birthday Finally! A Leap Year Story.
- Don’t Feel Like DIY?: This leap year activity book has it all done for you.
Happy Leap Day!!