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Leap year superstitions and traditions from around the world

According to some superstitions, marriages and new relationships are said to be doomed if they are started during leap years

Kaleigh Werner
New York
Thursday 29 February 2024 05:43 GMT
What can you do on a leap day

As we bid 2023 adieu and welcome the first few days of 2024, we look forward to what the next 12 months have in store. In Chinese culture, this year marks the Year of the Wood Dragon, which promises success and authority. What’s more, according to the calendar, this year is a leap year, meaning we get one extra day at the end of February. And while some people may revel in the hope of forthcoming good fortune, others associate a leap year with indisputable suffering and failure due to longstanding superstitions.

To understand the fear rooted in leap day – 29 February – and the subsequent year, you need to know their origins. According toThe Economic Times, a leap year is necessary to mark for the change in seasons. Rather than a regular 365-day year, the leap year adds an extra day to “keep the calendar in sync with the seasons”. For a year to be a leap year, it has to be divisible by four or 400.

“The Earth takes approximately 365.2422 days to complete one orbit around the sun, which is slightly longer than 365 days. Without leap years, our calendar would gradually fall out of alignment with the seasons,” the outlet reported.

As for why February is the month which contains leap day – Julius Ceasar’s “Julian Calendar” declared it so. The former Roman dictator altered the calendar year to line up with the solar calendar. Per the The Economic Times, “Even after the Julian calendar evolved into the Gregorian calendar in 1582, the tradition of adding a leap day to February continued.”

Though the intention of leap year is to keep us on track, many cultures are extremely cautious about the time. One of the many superstitions associated with leap years is about relationships. Written and passed down in Greek and Ukranian folklore is the belief that getting married during a leap year will ultimately end in divorce.

Panourgia, the author of the 1995 book Fragments of Death, Fables of Identity: An Athenian Anthropography, explained how the superstition stems from a fear of starting anything new during this time. Furthermore, if one were to get married or engaged, the fate of the relationship is believed to end in divorce or the death of a spouse.

That being said, an Irish tradition goes against that fear. The previous regularity of a man asking for the woman’s hand in marriage is turned around on 29 February. According toSalon, Saint Bridget supposedly convinced Saint Patrick that women should be allowed the opportunity to propose to their partner, leading to the enactment of Bachelor’s Day on leap day. From then on, every four years, women were encouraged to get down on one knee and ask their man to marry them. Furthermore, when the tradition was adopted in Scotland, men would receive a fine if they didn’t accept the proposal.

“In 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland passed a law saying that any man who refuses a leap day proposal must pay a fine anywhere between £1 to a silk gown,” Salon stated.

For the Danish men who refused a woman’s proposal, they had to gift the woman 12 pairs of gloves to cover up the fact that she wasn’t wearing an engagement ring. Meanwhile, men in Finland were made to give fabric to the woman so she could fashion a skirt.

The tradition eventually made it to America, finding its way in comic strips before being made into “Sadie Hawkins Day.”

Anyone who’s born on 29 February, leap day, was said to be unlucky in Scottish culture. “Leaplings,” the term used for babies born on leap day, were predicted to have a year of “untold suffering.” In general, Greek, Scottish, and Germans think the entirety of the year is luckless. However, in the United States, “leaplings” are celebrated. In Anthony, Texas, a four-day festival is held in honour of them and the entire year.

Unlike the negative prediction of misfortune for engaged couples and “leaplings,” Reggio Emilia, a city in Northern Italy, has long believed leap year’s to be extremely lucky for whales. This is because they think whales only give birth during leap years, per a BuzzFeed report.

Appreciation for the special time is reflected in both Parisien and English tradition. As an ode to the unique year, a special newspaper in Paris, titled La Bougie du Sapeur, is printed each leap year. Each edition is brand new, entirely different from the last, with a lot of satire written in. The first newspaper was published in 1980, paying homage to a comic book character who was born on leap day with the name.

Lastly, London honours leap year with a unique cocktail first crafted by Harry Craddock, a bartender during the 1920s. When Craddock was working at the Savoy Hotel in London during 1928, he devised a drink to celebrate the leap year. The ingredients included gin, vermouth, lemon juice, and Grand Marnier.

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