February 29th is Leap Day. Discover the history of leap year—fun facts, traditions and notable "leapling" births.
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Leap Day began in 46 B.C. when Roman emperor Julius Caesar consulted with top astronomers to accurately match the calendar year with the solar year. To keep the calendar synchronized with the seasons, one day is added every four years. Without leap year, the seasons would slowly shift and eventually Christmas would slide right into summer.
In common years with 365 days, fixed dates advance one day per year. So if July 4th fell on a Tuesday last year, it will fall on a Wednesday this one. However on leap years, these dates leap ahead—or advance two days instead one.
The tradition of women asking men to marry them on Leap Day is said to have originated back in fifth century Ireland when Saint Brigid convinced Saint Patrick to allow women to propose to men. According to legend, St. Patrick agreed to her proposal, but only every four years on Leap Day.
You can calculate which years will be leap years by seeing if the last two digits of the year are divisible by four. If they are, it's a leap year. Except... if it's a century year. Those must be divisible by 400 to be leap years. So the year 2,000 was, but the year 2100 won't be. Confusing, no?
A person born on February 29 is a "leapling" or a "leap-year baby." Which leads to the question, when do you celebrate when your birthday isn't on the calendar? Some leaplings celebrate their birthday on February 28 or March 1, while others only observe birthdays on the authentic date, February 29. Notable leaplings are Pope Paul III, singer and acress Dinah Shore and painter Balthus.
Who knew? There isn't just one Leap Year Capital... there are two. In 1988, Mary Ann Brown resident of Anthony, Texas and a leapling herself started a festival to commemerate the day. Shortly after, the New Mexico Governor and the Texas Governor declared Anthony, Texas and Anthony, New Mexico joint Leap Year Capitals of the World. On February 29th, leaplings from across the globe travel to the twin cities to celebrate their special birthday!
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