Leaping into the unknown


Tomorrow is a leap day, the spare day that comes (almost) every four years to ensure our calendars are correct. Newspapers and blogs are awash with ‘leap day’ facts today. I was in two minds as to whether to acknowledge this quadrennial event or ignore it (given the blanket alternative coverage). In the end I decided to present a selection of my favourite leap day facts.

A person born on 29 February is often called a ‘leap year baby’ or a leaper, but I much prefer the term ‘leapling’. The chance of being born on leap day has been estimated to be around 1 in 1,461.

In non-intercalary years (i.e. non-leap years), some leaplings choose to celebrate a birthday on the 28 February or 1 March. Others only celebrate on the 29 February – a quadrennial celebration that is hopefully big enough to make up for losing out on the intervening years.

Different countries have different rules on when a leaplings legal birthday is on non-intercalary years. In New Zealand a nd Taiwan, it is the preceding 28 February. In the United Kingdom and Hong Kong it is the proceeding 1 March. Thus a UK leapling born on 29 February 1996 will officially turn 18 on 1 March 2014, whilst hisNew Zealandcounterpart will turn 18 on 28 February 2014.

Some famous leaplings include Ja Rule (1976) and Richard Ramirez (the infamous Night Stalker) (1960). Sir James Wilson is notable as Premier of Tasmania but also for being born and dying on a leap day (1812 and 1880).

In the Christian calendar, 29 February is the feast day of Oswald of Worcester, butshiftto 28 February in non-intercalary years. He died on 29 February 992 whilst washing the feet of the poor atWorcester.

Many of the most popular traditions surrounding leap years is the reversal of roles that allows a women to propose marriage. In theUK, women were allowed to propose on the leap day, and would be compensated if the man refused. Similar traditions are followed inDenmark andFinland, but with the compensation being 12 pairs of gloves (inDenmark) and the fabric for a skirt (inFinland).

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