Leap year traditions: what does it mean around the world?

White block calendar present date 29 and month February and plant on pink. Leap day

It’s a leap year. But what are the traditions surrounding this odd day?

Every four years, the calendar grants us an extra day, February 29th. It’s an occurrence that has sparked unique customs and beliefs in all corners of the world. From marriage proposals to legal contracts, leap year traditions range from the wild to the funny.

Some of it’s interesting. Some of it’s just downright mad. There’s even a man from West Sussex, Chris Snowdon, who has created a petition to get the British Government to move the extra day to the summer, where it would be more welcome.

Ireland: a day for women to propose

We’ve all heard about this one, although we didn’t know it was an Irish invention. In Ireland, leap year tradition grants women the opportunity to break convention and take matters of the heart into their own hands.

Dating back to the 5th century, legend has it that St. Brigid of Kildare struck a deal with St. Patrick, allowing women to propose to men during leap years. This tradition continues today, with February 29th serving as the designated day for women to pop the question. And this has now spread across the UK and further afield.

While the custom may have evolved over time, its roots are planted in a celebration of empowerment and love.

Read more bonkers stuff: Confessions of a funeral crasher

Penalties for denying a leap year proposal!

In Scotland, leap year traditions carry a playful yet firm tone. According to Scottish folklore, in 1288 a law was passed that said any man who rejects a woman’s proposal during a leap year must pay a penalty.

The penalties range from a kiss to a fine, or a new dress. And the tradition migrated to other parts of Europe. In Denmark, the fine is 12 pairs of gloves, so the lady could wear one pair per month, and hide the fact that she had no wedding ring (yes really!). And in Finland, the fine meant the man had to provide the spurned woman with fabric so she could make a skirt. Why this is, we have no idea.

Greece: avoiding bad luck

In Greek culture, leap years are associated with superstitions and folklore. It is believed that getting married during a leap year brings bad luck, leading many couples to postpone their nuptials until the following year. Additionally, Greeks also feel that leap years are generally unfavourable for important life events, such as starting a business or building a house.

Italy: leap year babies bring good fortune

In Italy, on the other hand, leap years are viewed with a bit more positivity. In Italy, as in many cultures, leap year babies, are often referred to as ‘leapers’ or ‘leaplings’. They are believed to bring good luck and prosperity to their families. Italian folklore holds that children born on February 29th possess unique talents and blessings. Families often celebrate these special individuals with joyful gatherings, embracing the idea that leap year babies are destined for greatness or hold a special place in the family and community.

Taiwan: time for trotters

In Taiwan, there is a traditional belief or superstition surrounding leap years and the consumption of pig trotters (also known as pig’s feet). It’s believed that eating pig trotters during a leap year can bring good luck and prosperity.

Pigs symbolise wealth and abundance in Taiwanese culture. Therefore, consuming pig trotters during a leap year is thought to invite financial prosperity and good fortune for the coming year.

Where does it come from?

Leap years occur once every four years. And will next feature a leap day on 29 February 2028. The additional day is appended to February and was instituted by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. In the Julian calendar, where February marked the end of the year, it made sense to extend this month.

However, leap year occurrences have exceptions. Years must be precisely divisible by four, with the exclusion of years divisible by 400. In centurial years, deemed as such, a leap year only transpires if they are divisibly exact by 400.

Okay then.

Whether it’s a leap year proposal by a woman, or a leapling’s birthday in Italy, enjoy your extra day this year.

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