Today is February 29 which only happens once every four years because of a leap year, but what is a leap year and why is it so important?

The reason for a leap year’s existence is that a normal year isn’t 365 days instead it is 365 and a quarter days, so every four years we have an extra day at the end of February to realign the Georgian calendars with the season because if we don’t then Christmas could end up in June.

It was created in 45 BC by Julius Caesar as he wanted to keep festivals in the same spot of the year and simplify the calendar.

However, there is an exception because a year is less than 365 and a quarter so over centuries extra days would be added therefore centuries years would only be a leap year if it is evenly divisible by 400, for example, 1700 and 1900 are not because they aren’t divisible by 400 while 1600 and 2000 are so they are leap years, the next century year, 2100, is not a leap year. This is to keep the calendar even more in sync with the astronomical year.

There are many traditions for a leap year, for example, it is tradition in the UK and Ireland for women to propose to men. This is thought to date back to the 5th Century in Ireland when Saint Bridget complained to Saint Patrick that women were tired of having to wait for men to propose. 

She was able to convince him to allow women to propose to men once every four years which later became known as “ladies’ privilege” or “bachelor’s day”. Turning down these proposals in Scotland was costly as the men had to reimburse the rejected women with a fine or a silk dress, this is similar in Denmark, however, if men turn down the offer then they have to give the women pairs of gloves so she could hide her ringless finger. 

People born on February 29 - also known as leaplings - are faced with a dilemma over when they celebrate their birthdays. The solution is that most have their birthdays in non-leap years on February 28 or March 1. Famous people who were born on February 29 include Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Olympic medal winner in swimming Cullen Jones and Universal Music Group’s chief executive Sir Lucian Grainge.

  • This article was written by Oliver Sparks, from Wildern School, as part of Newsquest's Young Reporter scheme.