Leap Year 2020: Traditions, birthdays and why February has an extra day

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February will have 29 days in 2020.

The extra day is called Leap Day and, depending on what you believe, all types of crazy stuff could happen.

Many cultures have built up traditions and customs based on the extra day added to the calendar nearly every four years. Those years with an extra day in February are known as leap years, by the way.

So single men had better stock up on women’s gloves, single women should get ready to pop the question and babies born on Feb. 29 can count on always being younger than their friends. Here’s what you need to know about leap year 2020.

How is a leap year calculated?

The calendar normally has 365 in a year. However, if a year is the amount of time it takes for the Earth to complete an orbit around the sun, that takes a little bit longer.

To be precise, it takes 365.2422 days, according to Western Washington University’s Astro Pages website. To state that a little more plainly, it takes 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds.

Maybe you think, “What’s the big deal? Six hours a year isn’t going to hurt anything.”  But officials couldn’t just let it slide if calendars, and marking the start of seasons on calendars, were going to mean anything. Let those six hours a year build up over a few hundred years and you could have spring starting in April or May.

The ancient Egyptians were among the first to notice the discrepancy (probably not down to the second, but close) and began added an extra day to their calendar every four years. As measurements of time and astronomy got more precise, subsequent calendars continued to add an extra day every four years.

Our current calendar, the Gregorian calendar (named after Pope Gregory XIII, introduced in 1582), came up with the best way to deal with those accumulated minutes and seconds.

The Gregorian calendar introduced the century year.

What’s a century year?

Adding a 24-hour day to the calendar every four years makes the math easy. However, that assumes an extra six hours each year rather than 5:48:46. That extra 11 minutes and 14 seconds was still building up.

So the Gregorian calendar decided to add an extra day every four years except in years that are evenly divisible by 100, but not by 400. That means the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1900, 1800 and 1700 were not.

As a result, the calendar year and solar year are only about 30 seconds off. According to infoplease.com, that means it will take about 3,300 years for the calendar year and solar year to be off by a whole day.

When do you celebrate a leap year birthday?

Astronomy, math and timekeeping aside, that extra day has real-world ramifications. What about people who are born on Leap Day?

The chances of being born on Feb. 29 are one in 1,461. Some notable folks born on that date are actor Antonio Sabàto Jr., Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones, rapper Ja Rule and poet/rapper Saul Williams. On the notorious side, serial killers Aileen Wuornos and Richard Ramirez also were born on Leap Day.

If your birthday is Feb. 29 (February got the extra day because it was the shortest month) you’ll deal with some confusion in your life.

State identification won’t list your actual birthday, for example. Most states assign March 1 as the birthdate of people born on Feb. 29. In other cases, it’s Feb. 28.

Some people born on Leap Day – sometimes known as Leapers – only celebrate their birthday every four years. That’s probably what’s going on if you come across a clearly middle-aged man who claims he’s only 14.

Leap Day traditions

According to timeanddate.com, Irish legend states that St. Brigid made a deal with St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men on Leap Day.

The tradition further says that if a man refuses a woman’s proposal on Leap Day, he’s supposed to compensate her for the slight. In some countries, the customary gift is 12 pairs of gloves so the woman doesn’t have to show off her engagement-ring-less hand.

Here are three more Leap day traditions:

  • In Scotland, it’s considered unlucky to be born on Feb. 29.
  • In Greece, it’s considered bad luck for a couple to marry during a leap year and especially on Leap Day.
  • In some southern German villages, boys plant a small tree in the backyard of girls they have a crush on. During leap years it’s the girls’ turn to plant the tree.

Reach the reporter at weldon.johnson@arizonarepublic.com. Or follow him on Twitter at @weldonjohnson.

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