Leap Year 2024: The Science, History, And Superstitions Behind It

1st Feb 2024
Leap Year 2024: The Science, History, And Superstitions Behind It

Winter has probably exhausted us all, so you’re counting the days until spring, right? We should warn you that 2024 is making us wait a tad longer. Why, you ask? Because it’s a leap year, meaning February gets an extra day – we’re talking 29 days instead of the usual 28.

But why do we throw in this extra day every four years (with a few quirky exceptions)? What’s the deal if you’re lucky enough to be born on the 29th of February? Well, we’ve got all the deets you need in this article.

What Is a Leap Year?

This part is pretty simple: a leap year is a calendar year containing one additional day, totalling 366 days instead of the usual 365 days.

Why Is There a Leap Year?

Here’s the simple scoop on why we have leap years: Our calendar needs to stay in sync with the seasons. You see, Earth takes around 365.25 days to orbit the Sun, a bit more than our calendar’s neat 365 days. Since our calendar doesn’t consider this extra quarter day, it starts drifting out of sync with the solar year.

To fix this, we throw in a “leap day” every four years. This brings our calendar back in line with the seasons. If we didn’t have leap days, the calendar would be off by about 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds each year. After 100 years, that would lead to a whopping 25-day difference in the seasons! Imagine February and March feeling like summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

What Is a Leap Year, tropical year and common year
Credit: www.timeanddate.com

The leap day helps correct this drift, but it’s not perfect. Adding a leap day every four years actually overcompensates by a few extra seconds each time, summing up to about three extra days every 10,000 years. But why February? Why not put Leap Day at the beginning of the year, say January 32?

Why Is February 29th a Leap Day?

Well, it all dates back to the ancient Romans. Initially, the Roman calendar, created around 738 B.C., only had 10 months and didn’t account for winter. Eventually, Numa Pompilius added January and February at the end of the calendar year. Still, irregularities popped up, leading Roman consuls to occasionally add a 13th month to realign with the seasons.

Julius Caesar stepped in and introduced the Julian calendar in 45 B.C., which included an extra day every four years. This intercalary day, bissextus, was added after February 23. Over time, though, the Julian calendar overshot the solar year, prompting Pope Gregory XIII to introduce the Gregorian calendar in the 1570s. This modern calendar adjusted the leap year rule and excluded certain centurial years, aligning more accurately with the solar cycle.

Even with these adjustments, some countries took a while to adopt the Gregorian calendar. Sweden, for instance, faced mix-ups in 1712, resulting in a rare observation of Feb. 30. In 1752, the UK transitioned to the Gregorian calendar, formalising February 29 as Leap Day. Later, in 1972, leap seconds were introduced to address tiny time discrepancies.

Is Leap Year Always Every 4 Years?

Not exactly! We add an extra day every four years to keep our calendar in sync with Earth’s orbit around the sun. But the Earth’s orbit takes a bit more than 365 days, about 11 minutes more. To fix this, only the end-of-century years that are divisible by 400 are leap years. For example, the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1900 wasn’t, and neither will be 2100.

When Is the Next Leap Year?

leap years list
List of leap years

How do you know if it’s a leap year? In general, leap years come around every four years, which is pretty easy to remember. But there’s a bit more to it, there are two simple leap year rules:

  1. A year might be a leap year if you can divide it evenly by 4.
  2. However, if a year is divisible by 100 (like 1900 or 2000), it won’t be a leap year unless it’s also divisible by 400. So, for example, 1700, 1800, and 1900 weren’t leap years, but 1600 and 2000 were.

If a year follows both these rules, it’s officially a leap year!

Why 2024 is a leap year?

So, Let’s take the leap year 2024 as an example and apply leap year rules: it’s divisible by 4 (2024/4=506) and not by 100 (2024/100=20.24). Therefore, 2024 qualifies as a leap year, just like the previous one in 2020, which featured an extra day on February 29th.

So, when is the next leap year? The attached list of upcoming leap years will help you with that.

Leap Year 2024 Superstitions 

While leap years are rooted in adjusting our calendars to align with astronomical seasons, the traditions and superstitions associated with leap years vary across cultures. Here are just some of them:

  • Women Proposing to Men: One of the most well-known leap year traditions is that women are encouraged to propose to men on February 29th. This tradition dates back to the 5th century, with the legend suggesting that St. Brigid in Ireland complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait too long for men to propose. St. Patrick supposedly declared that women could propose on this one day during a leap year. Obviously, in the twenty-first century, anyone can propose when they want, but some still choose to keep up the tradition.
  • Leap Year Babies: People born on February 29th (app. 5 million people) are often called “leaplings” or “leapers.” Lighthearted traditions are associated with leap-year babies, including teasing them about their rare birthdays and making jokes about them only ageing every four years. During non-leap years, they typically celebrate on either February 28th or March 1st. However, in leap years like 2024, they have the unique opportunity to celebrate on the actual day, February 29th.
  • Good and Bad Luck: Folklore suggests that leap years bring both good and bad luck. In some countries, leap years are considered to be bad luck. Scottish farmers have a saying: “Leap year was never a good sheep year.” In Greece, it’s said that marriages in leap years end in divorce. Conversely, others believe that leap years bring good luck, and starting a new chapter in life during this time may lead to prosperity.

While there’s no substantial evidence supporting the marriage theory, it’s interesting to note that significant historical events happened during leap years:

  • Rome burned (64).
  • The Titanic sank (1912).
  • Benjamin Franklin demonstrated that lightning is electricity (1752).
  • The Beatles made their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, launching the British Invasion in the United States and transforming the global music scene (1964).
  • COVID-19 pandemic started the last leap year. Well, the first outbreak happened in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, and a month later Coronavirus spread worldwide and was proclaimed a pandemic (2020).
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