2020 is a Leap Year, which means that the month of February will have an extra day. Because it occurs only once in four years, this ‘Leap Day’ has long been accorded special status and many romantic customs have become associated with it, writes Gerry Breen.

Saturday, 29th February, is a very special day. It is a Leap Day which only occurs every four years. People born on that day are known as Leaplings, and, traditionally, it’s a time when love is in the air. On this highly exceptional day, women were ‘allowed’ to encourage reluctant suitors to propose marriage, or, indeed, pop the question themselves.

Many customs and traditions have grown up around this highly exceptional day, and for people who can only have a real birthday every four years, it is a time of much celebration.

No need to feel sad for those who only get to celebrate their birthday every four years. They can claim that, unlike ordinary people, they only age one year for every four. Some couples find it very romantic to have their wedding date fall on the most special day in the calendar, 29th February. In those cases, it could be said that it is the husband who gets the best part of the bargain. He doesn’t have to buy an expensive anniversary gift every year!

Non-leap years pose a problem for those who were born on 29th February. In ordinary years, do they celebrate their birthday on 28th February or on 1st March? As far as birthday parties are concerned, the decision is, of course, up to them.
However, when it comes to legal matters – like being old enough to get a driving licence or buy a car – it becomes a little more complicated. Many countries tend to recognise that a Leap Day baby legally ages on 1st March of non-leap years. However, there are exceptions. For instance, New Zealand favours 28th February.

According to the Encyclopaedia Americana (2004 Edition) an English law was passed during the reign of Henry V111 which decreed that those born on Leap Year Day would have to celebrate their birthdays on 28th February.

The reason why February has to have one extra day in a Leap Year instead of the usual twenty-eight is in order to keep our calendar year synchronised with the solar year.
According to the old rhyme:
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one
Excepting February alone;
Which hath but twenty-eight, in fine,
Till Leap Year gives it twenty-nine.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own