This week, being a leap year, we will have February 29th, then it will be four more years until it comes around again. A leap year is when an extra day is added to the month of February.Generally it happens once every four years but its more complicated than that. In simple terms, it’s because our year is based on 365 days whereas a complete orbit of the earth around the sun takes exactly 365.2422 days. Leap years of 366 days are added as a means of keeping our calendars in line with the Earth’s passage. The Roman calendar had 355 days with an extra 22 day month every two years, until Julius Caesar decided on a 365 day year with an extra day every four years to correct for the extra hours. The name “leap year” comes from the fact that normally a fixed date advances one day of the week from one year to the next. So if Christmas Day was a Saturday this year it will be a Sunday next year. Because of the extra day of the week in a leap we are “leaping over” so that a fixed date will now follow on 2 days after the previous year. Got it? Not quite you haven’t. There’s a leap year every year that is divisible by four, except for years that are both divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400. The year 2000 was a leap year, but the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. As an earth year is not exactly 365.25 days long, astronomers advising Pope Gregory decided to lose three days every 400 years when they introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582.
If you are born on February 29th , you will have only celebrated four birthdays when you become an adult. Over four million people worldwide have been born on the 29th. Amongst them is Joss Ackland, the distinguished English actor born on February 29, 1928, in Kensington. But it’s not all bad news for “leaplings”, or “leapers” as people like Joss are known. Some companies will give freebies to you on your birthday. For example, Majestic Wine is offering a free bottle of champagne (to those who buy six bottles), and we’ll give a 50% discount on one of our adult onesies to any leapling who wants to claim it.
If you can make it to Anthony, a US city on the border of Texas and New Mexico, there is four-day leap year festival held each leap year that includes a huge birthday party for all leaplings.
Also of note, the Olympic Games are always held in a leap year – Rio in Brazil is busy getting ready this year. US presidential elections are held every four years, in a leap year – you may have noticed the primaries under way. And FIFA always devote February 29th for a serious discussion about anti-corruption measures. Just four more years to the next one.