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Happy Leap Day

February 29 comes once every 4 years, every Leap Year, that is

By Laura Leigh Davidson | null null , null
Kids jumping. (Photos: ©Don Hammond/Design Pics/age fotostock, inc.)
Kids jumping. (Photos: ©Don Hammond/Design Pics/age fotostock, inc.)

Happy Leap Day! Leap Day, you ask? Yes, it's February 29. You may notice this date didn't appear on last year's calendar, or the year before that, or the year before that. . . .That's because Leap Day happens once every four years—and 2008 is a leap year.

A leap year has 366 days instead of the usual 365 that an ordinary year has. An extra day is added to the calendar in a leap year, and here's why:

The 365 days of the calendar are meant to match up with the solar year. A solar year is the time it takes the Earth to complete its orbit around the Sun—about one year. But the Earth's yearly trip around the sun takes a bit longer than 365 days. The orbit takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds, to be exact. That time equals roughly one quarter of a day, so the calendar and the solar year don't match exactly.

After a few years, that extra time in the solar year begins to accumulate. After four years, for example, the four extra quarter days would make the calendar fall behind the solar year by about a day. So to keep the calendar year and the solar year in sync, every four years, a leap day is added to the shortest month, February.

Leap Babies

So, imagine you were born on February 29. Technically you would have a birthday every four years. So at age 80, you'd be only 20. According to the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies—a club for people born on Leap Day—there are an estimated 4 million people whose birthdays come but once every four years.

But who wants to wait four years to celebrate your birthday? Most celebrate yearly on February 28 or March 1.

Leap Year Is Ladies Choice

There was a time when strict rules of courtship prevented women from proposing marriage to their beloved. In most cultures, that's not the case anymore. In fact, female pioneers who thought this societal convention was clearly unfair managed to get Leap Year established as an acceptable time for women to "pop the question" to unmarried men. So on February 29—one day every four years—a man could be surprised with an offer he couldn't refuse.

The first documentation of this day of ladies choice was in 1288 in Scotland. Officials then decided to pass 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 said no to a proposal in a leap year had to pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

What You Can Do With Your Extra Day

People all over the world celebrate Leap Day with birthday parties, of course, and restaurants are having special dinners for leap babies. In addition, competitors from Australia to Africa and Arizona are competing in Leap Year trivia games. So enjoy your "extra day." Maybe you can get your homework done early.

CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION

Were you born on February 29? Do you know any "leap babies"? Tell us what you know about Leap Year by going to our Top Story discussion board.

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