After four long calendar years, leap year is upon us again.
The quadrennial date of Feb. 29 may be seen as a throwaway for some, but for others, it’s more meaningful — particularly if you were born on the one day that only appears in one of every four calendars.
But in case you're unaware, leap days and leap years carry rather interesting customs well beyond one’s birthdate. Here are some of the leap year’s most interesting beliefs and traditions around the world.
Women Proposing to Men
A leap day tradition known as Bachelor’s Day sees women tossing out gender norms to propose marriage to their male partners in certain parts of the world. Historian Katherine Parkin of Monmouth University suggests it may have originated in Irish or Scottish folklore, but its roots have long been dubious.
Although one would imagine it to be an empowering tradition for women, the custom was not embraced as such. Postcards from as early as 1908 portrayed women as domineering figures over their male partners. “The images clearly convey the ugliness and desperateness of these women,” Parkin told The Washington Post in 2016.
In a 2011 article in the Journal of Family History, Parkin explained that women who proposed in the early 20th century were mocked and belittled in popular culture. “Scorned and ridiculed for trespassing against male privilege, along with those who wore pants or participated in politics, female proposers learned that seeking rights threatened those who held power,” Parkin wrote. “In the end, the leap year custom helped ensure that men continued to hold the power in matters of matrimony.”
12 Pairs of Gloves
In some European societies, if a man were to refuse a woman’s proposal on Feb. 29, he would have to pay a penalty, according to Irish Central. The penalty was often a gown, money, or in some cases, 12 pairs of gloves for the woman. It’s believed that the gloves were to hide the woman’s embarrassment of not having an engagement ring. There were even laws during the Middle Ages that governed said tradition.
Leap Year in Other Countries
While the leap day is based on the Gregorian Calendar, which is used in most parts of the world, not every country observes a leap day. In China, for example, the leap year has an extra month added to its lunisolar calendar. Likewise, the Ethiopian calendar consists of 13 months, which includes a 13th month consisting of only 5 days in a common year and 6 days in a leap year.
Hebrew and Buddhist ancient calendars also followed the lunisolar calendar, according to History.com. Their dates indicate the position of the moon and the Earth relative to the sun, rather than the Gregory calendar, which is determined by just the earth’s revolution around the sun.
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The Unlucky Year
Greek and Ukrainian folklore suggests that couples who marry during a leap year are destined for a marriage filled with bad luck. According to some superstitions, the consequences are believed to be divorce or even the death of a spouse.
In her 1995 book “Fragments of Death, Fables of Identity: An Athenian Anthropography,” Neni Panourgia said the bad luck associated with leap year extended beyond weddings. “It was not only getting married, but baptizing a child, entering into any sort of contractual relationship, buying or selling, starting a journey or even a new job.”
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Leap Year Babies
Having a baby on a leap day is pretty rare, so much so that the chance is about one in 1,461, according to the BBC. Considering how special it is for a baby to be born on Feb. 29, leap year babies — also known as leapers or leaplings — are believed by some astrologers to possess special talents.
“Their energy is creative, receptive, and often very unique. To be born on this day is to have a kind of magical ‘sixth sense’ about the world,” according to Horoscope.com. “They are believed to be naturally lucky and often possess special talents.”