Did you know that 2024 is a leap year? That means we get an extra day on the calendar at the end of February, and we’re sure that Canadian cities are hosting celebrations to mark the occasion.
Why do we have leap years?
For those who don’t know, leap days are added nearly every four years to the calendar year. This is to ensure that our calendar is aligned with the astronomical seasons, since a year on the Gregorian calendar is 365 days and a year according to Earth’s orbit around the sun is approximately 365.25 days, states The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
While that might not seem like a very big difference, our calendar and seasons would gradually fall out of sync without a leap year, according to NASA. In fact, in a few hundred years, the month of July could take place during the winter months without it!
This is because approximately 6 hours (1/4th of a day) are subtracted from every non-leap year to keep the number of calendar days at 365. So without leap years, all of those hours would add up to missing days, weeks, and even months.
History of the Leap Year
The Leap Year dates back to 45 B.C.E., when Julius Caesar adapted the early Roman 355-day calendar to a 365-day calendar inspired by the Egyptian solar calendar.
Instead of relying on the stars, however, he added a day to every fourth year at the end of February—and thus the Leap Day was born.
According to Canada’s National Research Council, the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII as a replacement for the Julian calendar, which is now used across the globe.
The Gregorian calendar has three rules for leap years, the first of which is that a leap year must be divisible evenly by 4 (unless it’s divisible evenly by 100, in which case it’s a normal year). If a year is divisible by 400, however, the year is counted as a leap year.
For example, the year 2000 is a leap year because it is divisible evenly by 4, 100, and 400.
Leap Day Folklore
In terms of folklore, an old Irish tale says that on leap days, women may propose to their men, according to Time and Date. The tale is believed to have introduced the balance of traditional roles of men and women – the same way that leap days balance out the calendar year.
If a man refused a marriage proposal from a woman on Leap Day, he was expected to pay a penalty, such as a gown, money – or during the Middle Ages – 12 pairs of gloves to hide the fact that the woman wouldn’t be wearing an engagement ring.
In Scotland, those born on a leap day were considered unlucky, just as Friday the 13th is considered superstitious. According to Time and Date, Greek culture considers it unlucky for couples to get married during a leap year – especially on a leap day.
Leap Day in 2024 and beyond
The last Leap Year was in 2020, making the last Leap Day on February 29th, 2020. Likewise, this year’s Leap Day will fall on February 29th, making our calendar year 366 days instead of 365.
So there you have it, Canada. Are you superstitious about leap years?