According to an old Irish legend, or possibly history, St Brigid struck a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men — and not just the other way around — every four years. This is believed to have been introduced to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how leap day balances the calendar. A man was expected to pay a penalty, such as a gown or money, if he refused a marriage proposal from a woman on Leap Day.
In many European countries, especially in the upper classes of society, tradition dictates that any man who refuses a woman's proposal on February 29 has to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.
During the middle ages there were laws governing this tradition. According to the Guinness Book of Records, there are Leap Day World Record Holders both of a family producing three consecutive generations born on February 29 and of the number of children born on February 29 in the same family. The Mercedonius-when-we-feel-like-it system apparently irked Caesar, the general-turned-consul-turned-dictator of Rome who drastically altered the course of European history.
In addition to conquering Gaul and transforming Rome from a republic into an empire, Caesar re-ordered the Roman calendar, giving us the blueprint off of which much of the world still operates to this day. During his time in Egypt, Caesar became convinced of the superiority of the Egyptian solar calendar, which featured days and an occasional intercalary month which was inserted when astronomers observed the correct conditions in the stars.
Caesar and the philosopher Sosigenes of Alexandria made one important modification: instead of relying on the stars, they would simply add a day to every fourth year. In keeping with the Roman tradition of messing with the length of February, that day would fall in the second month of the year—thus Leap Day was born. By the 16th century, scholars had noticed that time was still slipping—Caesar's calculation that a year lasted This was a problem for the Catholic Church, as the date of Easter had drifted away from its traditional place, the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, by roughly ten days.
Pope Gregory XIII commissioned a modified calendar, one which kept Leap Day but accounted for the inaccuracy by eliminating it on centurial years not divisible by , , and were not leap years, but was. The introduction of the Gregorian Calendar marked the last change to the Western calendar as we know it today. Experts note that the Gregorian calculation of a solar year— Thankfully, the Gregorian calendar is only off by about one day every 3, years, so mankind has some time before this becomes a problem.
Curiously, many Leap Day customs have revolved around romance and marriage. Tradition holds that in 5th-century Ireland, St. Bridget lamented to St. Patrick that women were not allowed to propose marriage to men. So legend has it that St.
Patrick designated the only day that does not occur annually, February 29, as a day on which women would be allowed to propose to men. In some places, Leap Day thus became known as Bachelor's Day. This tradition hopped the Irish Sea to Scotland and England, where the British added a twist—if a man rejected a woman's proposal, he owed her a debt of several pairs of fine gloves, perhaps to hide the fact that she did not have an engagement ring.
In Greek tradition, however, it is considered bad luck to marry on Leap Day, and statistics suggest that Greek couples continue to take this superstition seriously. There are only about 5 million people in the whole world who were born on February 29, with the odds of being born on Leap Day standing at about 1-in-1, Several famous people—including actress and singer Dinah Shore born , motivational speaker Tony Robbins born and hip-hop artist Ja Rule born —are leaplings.
Leaplings technically only get to celebrate their birthdays once every four years, but they do get to be part of an elite group.
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