Leap year 2024: What is a leap day, how did it start and why on Feb. 29?

Leap Day is an attempt to match up Earth's way of marking time with the universe's way of marking it.

This year, 2024, is a leap year, and what that means is that we get an extra day this year.

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We get that extra day because we measure time, in part, by the days it takes our planet to go around the sun. Because we do that, every four years our calendar must come into agreement with the calendar that governs the way the universe measures time.

In case you are not up to speed on the speed of Earth as it goes around the sun, here’s a quick look at how and why we have a leap year and why we make it work by putting an extra day in February:

What is a leap year?

A leap year comes every four years. We have leap years, basically, to clean up some messy math and stroke the ego of Pope Gregory XIII.

Gregory decided he was tired of following a calendar devised by Julius Caesar, so, in 1582 he declared that a year — or one orbit of the Earth around the sun — took 365 days.

The solar system had an opposing opinion. It said it takes Earth 365.2422 days to make the trip.

So what to do with those extra minutes it takes for the Earth to go around the sun?

To keep our method of time in check with the universe, it was decided to add the extra minutes into a day that will be counted only every four years.

So there is a leap day every four years?

Yes, but this takes math.

We think of leap years as occurring every four years mainly because most of us weren’t around the last time it didn’t happen. In something akin to Canadian rules in football, a leap year happens every year that is divisible by four — and here’s the tricky part — except for the years that are both divisible evenly by 100 and not divisible evenly by 400.

We’ll give you a minute.

The year 2000 was a leap year, but 1800 and 1900 were not. The reason for this extra bit of arithmetic is that a day added every four years is too much of a correction for the bit of extra time it takes for Earth to make a trip around the sun.

Why February?

The short answer is that the other months already had a 29th day.

But that was not always the case.

According to History.com, February originally had 30 days and August had 29 days. But when Caesar Augustus became emperor, he was miffed at the fact that July, named after his uncle, Julius Caesar, had 31 days.

So, he invaded February and took two days to add to the month of August, a month he liked because he had won several battles in August and his name was Augustus.

What if you are born on Feb. 29?

You’re a Pisces if you are born on Feb. 29, and are one of “the dreamers of the zodiac.”

“Caring and sympathetic, you typically enjoy helping others and dislike confrontation.” On the other hand, you have a hard time saying “no,” and are emotional and moody.

You know who you are.

The chance of being born on Feb. 29 is 1 in about 1,461.

Some famous people born on Feb. 29 include Ja Rule, Dennis Farina, Dinah Shore, Tempest Storm, Alex Rocco and Jessie Usher.

What’s this about the girl asking the guy?

Ladies, get out a pen and paper and get this down: On Feb. 29, you are allowed to ask a man to marry you, and it looks like you have a nun to thank for it.

According to Irish legend, a nun named St. Brigid of Kildare complained to none other than St. Patrick that women were being strung along by their beaus, waiting to be asked for their hand in marriage.

Patrick took pity and decided that women could, indeed, ask men to marry them — on one day in February, every four years.

What if the guy said no?

Should you be rebuffed, take heart, there may still be something in it for you. Tradition holds that if the woman was turned down in Denmark, she could score 12 pairs of gloves; in Finland, you could get material for a skirt.

The government got the loot in Scotland, where if a proposal was turned down, the man was fined. Also, in England, the woman had to wear breeches or a scarlet petticoat when proposing.

You don’t see a lot of that nowadays.

What are some major events that have happened on Feb. 29?

  • On Feb. 29, 1504, Christopher Columbus, stranded in Jamaica, used a predicted lunar eclipse to frighten hostile natives into providing food for his crew.
  • On Feb. 29, 1692, the first warrants of the Salem witch trials were issued.
  • On Feb. 29, 1984, Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, resigned.
  • On Feb. 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to win an Oscar for her role in 1939′s “Gone with the Wind.”

Where is it observed?

Technically, everywhere on Earth, but Anthony, Texas, probably has the most elaborate celebration, with parades and birthday parties for “leapers,” people born on Feb. 29.

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