Look before you leap

By Kim O’Hare

Aside from February marking the advent of Valentine’s Day, this particular February is special for another reason - 2012 is a leap year, which means those people born on February 29th will actually be able to celebrate their birthdays on the actual date of their birth.

Your chance of having been born on Leap Year Day is about one in 1461. Put another way, only 0.0684% of the world’s population are Leapers. They even have their own webpage http://www.leapzine.com/hr/index.html There are some interesting traditions and folklore associated with Leap Day.

In today’s society, it is okay for a woman to propose marriage to a man. However, that hasn’t always been the case.  When the rules of courtship were stricter, women were only allowed to pop the question on one day every four years. That day was February 29th.

It is believed this tradition started in fifth century Ireland, when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. According to legend, St. Patrick said the yearning females could propose on this one day in February during the leap year.

UAEasy.com pictureThe first documentation of this practice dates back to 1288, when Scotland passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to the man of their choice in that year. They also made it law that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

According to English law, February 29th was ignored and had no legal status. Folks assumed that traditions would also have no status on that day. It was also reasoned that since the leap year day existed to fix a problem in the calendar, it could also be used to fix an old and unjust custom that only let men propose marriage.

In the United States, some people have referred to this date as Sadie Hawkins Day with women being given the right to run after unmarried men to propose. Sadie Hawkins was a female character in the Al Capp cartoon strip Li’l Abner. Many communities prefer to celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day in November, which is when Al Capp first mentioned Sadie Hawkins Day.

There is a Greek superstition that claims couples have bad luck if they marry during a leap year. Apparently one in five engaged couples in Greece will avoid planning their wedding during a leap year.

The Romans under Julius Caesar were the first society to create leap years by adding a day to their calendar every four years. This system worked fairly well.

Pope Gregory the 13th issued an edict in 1582 to create the Gregorian calendar. By his decree, a leap year would take place every four years unless it was a year divisible by 100. The only exception was if the year was also divisible by 400. Therefore, the year 1900 was not a leap year, and neither will 2100 be one. The year 2000 was a leap year. The rest of the Christian world adopted the Gregorian calendar over the next few centuries

The Chinese and Hebrew calendars are based on 12 lunar (moon-cycle) months, adding a 13th lunar month every few years to keep things synchronised. The Islamic calendar is on a 12-month lunar cycle. Therefore, an Islamic year is 354.36 days. This is why the holy month of Ramadan is never at the same time each year

In 1988 the border town of Anthony, Texas/New Mexico celebrated the first World Wide Leap Year Festival. Resident Mary Ann Brown, who was born on February 29th, spearheaded the idea and successfully campaigned to have the town named the world’s leap year capital.

Some Famous Leapers Born on February 29th

1972 - Anthonio Sabato Jr., model & actor
1964 Henrik Sundstrom, Sweden, tennis star
1916 - Dinah Shore, singer
1904 - Jimmy Dorsey, bandleader
1792 - Gioacchino Rossini, Italian opera composer
1964- James RB Ogilvy, son of English princess Alexandra
1932 - Gavin Stevens, cricket, Australian bat on 59-60 India/Pakistan tour
1928 - Alan Loveday, British violinist
1928 - Joss Ackland, born in London, England, actor, Queenie, To Kill a Priest
1924 - David Beattie, British governor-general of NZ
1916 - Dinah Shore, American Actress
1908 - Alf Gover, cricketer, bowled in four tests for England/famous coach
1896 - Ranchhodji Morarji Desai, premier of India, 1977-79
1896 - Wladimir Rudolfovich Vogel, composer
1468 - Paul III, last Renaissance pope, 1534-49

February 29 Events in History

1996 - Kenya defeat West Indies (all out 93) in Cricket World Cup
1988 - Mark Greatbatch scores 107* vs. England on Test Cricket debut
1988 - Nazi document implicates Kurt Waldheim in WW II deportations
1968 - Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” wins Grammy
1964 - Frank Rugani sets badminton shuttlecock distance record, 24.3 m
1956 - Islamic Republic forms in Pakistan
1940 - “Gone with the Wind,” wins 8 Oscars
1868 - 1st British government of Disraeli forms

Leap Year Cocktail

Invented at the Savoy Hotel in London on February 29th, 1928 this sweet concoction was said to have spurred many a marriage proposal.

2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Serve with a twist of lemon.


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