Leap year 2020: What is a leap year, how did it start, why Feb. 29?

What you need to know about Leap Year

This year, 2020, is a leap year, and what that means is that we get an extra day this year.

We get that extra day because we count time, in part, by the time it takes Earth to go around the sun. Because we do that, every four years our calendar must come into agreement with the calendar that governs the universe.

In case you are not up to speed on the speed of Earth around the sun, here’s a quick look at how/why we have a leap year and why we make it work by putting an extra day in February.

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What is a leap year anyway?

We have leap years, basically, to clean up some messy math and stroke the ego of Pope Gregory XIII.

Gregory decided he was tired of following a calendar devised by Julius Caesar, so, in 1582 he declared that a year – or one orbit of Earth around the sun – took 365 days.

The solar system, on the other hand, said it takes Earth 365.2422 days to make the trip.

So what to do with those extra seconds? In order to keep our method of time in check with the universe, it was decided to add the minutes into the day that comes around only every four years.

Is there a leap day every four years?

OK, this takes math.

We think of leap years as occurring every four years mainly because most of us weren’t around the last time it didn’t happen. In something akin to Canadian rules in football, a leap year happens every year that is divisible by four -- and here’s the tricky part -- except for the years that are both divisible evenly by 100 and not divisible evenly by 400.

We’ll give you a minute.

The year 2000 was a leap year, but 1800 and 1900 were not. The reason for this extra bit of arithmetic is that a day added every four years is too much of a correction for the bit of extra time it takes for Earth to make an orbit.

Why February?

The short answer is that the other months already had a 29th day. But not at first.

According to history.com, February originally had 30 days. August had 29 days. But when Caesar Augustus became emperor, he was miffed at the fact July, named after his uncle, Julius Caesar, had 31 days. So, he invaded February and took two days to add to the month of August, a month he liked because he had won several battles in August.

What if you are born on this day?

You’re a Pieces if you are born on Feb. 29, and are one of “the dreamers of the zodiac.

"Caring and sympathetic, you typically enjoy helping others and dislike confrontation.” On the other hand, you have a hard time saying “no,” and are emotional and moody. You know who you are.

The chance of being born on Feb. 29 is 1 in 1,461.

What’s this about the girl asking the guy?

Ladies, get out a pen and paper and get this down: On Feb. 29, you are allowed to ask a man to marry you, and it looks like you have a nun to thank for it.

According to Irish legend, a nun named St. Brigid of Kildare complained to none other than St. Patrick that women were being strung along by their beaus, waiting to be asked for their hand in marriage.

Patrick took pity and decided that women could, indeed, ask men to marry them – on one day in February, every four years.

What if the guy said no?

Should you be rebuffed, take heart, there may still be something in it for you. Tradition holds that if the woman was turned down in Denmark, she could score 12 pairs of gloves; in Finland, you could get material for a skirt.

The government got the loot in Scotland where if a proposal was turned down, the man was fined. Also, in England, the woman had to wear breeches or a scarlet petticoat when proposing.

What major events have happened on Feb. 29?

On Feb. 29, 1504, Christopher Columbus, stranded in Jamaica, used a predicted lunar eclipse to frighten hostile natives into providing food for his crew.

On Feb. 29, 1692, the first warrants of the Salem witch trials were issued.

On Feb. 29, 1984, Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, resigned.

On Feb. 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first black person to win an Oscar, for her role in 1939’s “Gone with the Wind.”

Where is it observed?

Technically, everywhere on Earth, but Anthony, Texas, probably has the most elaborate celebration, with parades and birthday parties for “leapers,” people born on Feb. 29.

February 29th. Date which repeats on leap year. Calendar (rare days) concept.
February 29th. Date which repeats on leap year. Calendar (rare days) concept. (Matjaz Boncina/Getty Images)