Throughout the ages, the leap day, or the 29th of February, has driven people from all over the world to rather odd behaviour – for one reason or another. Here is a selection of curious or special leap day related facts:
Julius Caesar introduced the first leap year around 46 BCE.
In Ireland, February 29 is called Bachelor’s Day, when women are allowed to propose to men. It is held that Queen Margaret of Scotland began the tradition in 1288. If a man refused the proposal, he would be fined a kiss, a silk dress or 12 pairs of gloves.
One in five engaged couples in Greece will plan to avoid getting married in a leap year. They believe it is bad luck.
In Taiwan, married daughters traditionally return home during the leap month as it is believed the lunar month can bring bad health to parents. Daughters bring pig trotter noodles to wish them good health and good fortune.
In Finland, the tradition is that if a man refuses a woman’s proposal on leap day, he should buy her the fabrics for a skirt.
According to the BBC, the chances of having a birthday on a leap day are about one in 1,461.
According to the New York Daily News, in modern times, at least two women have given birth to three leap day babies.
The Honor Society of Leap Year Babies is a club for people born on the 29th of February. More than 10,000 people worldwide are members.
On February 29, 1946, in Tokyo, the February 26 Incident ends.
In France, since 1980, a satirical newspaper entitled La Bougie du Sapeur is published only in a leap year, on February 29, making it a quadrennial publication and the least frequently published newspaper in the world.
On February 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first black woman to win an Oscar. She was awarded for her role in Gone With the Wind.
According to the World Heritage Encyclopaedia, the eighth premier of Tasmania, James Milne Wilson, was born in 1812 and died in 1880, both on February 29.
Frasier: Yeah dad, you should go. Martin: Ah, Montana’s too far away. Frasier: Well dad, his birthday only comes around once every four years. As a matter of fact, this day only comes around every four years. You know, it’s like a free day, a gift. We should do something special, be bold! It’s leap year, take a leap! Martin: You know, I was just about to say the same thing to you.
[…] Frasier: Dad, Jimmy’s already sixteen. How many more birthdays is he going to have? Martin: [smiles] You know, I would kind of hate not being there when Jimmy brings out the big ham.
– Frasier Season 3, Episode 16; “Look Before You Leap” [No. 66]
St. Ambrose was one of the extremely small number of people in the Middle Ages who could read without moving their lips.
Stained glass image of Saint Patrick
In Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, ‘aye’ means ‘no’.
On the 25th of September 1915, the British Army first uses poison gas at Loos, France, but ends up gassing many of its own troops.
The first thing Johannes Gutenberg sought to publish, after the Bible, was a laxative timetable he called a ‘Purgation-Calendar’.
According to legend, St. Patrick used the 3-leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish people. St. Patricks Day, celebrating the arrival of christianity in Ireland, is celebrated almost all over the English speaking world on the 17th of March; in Illinois, the Chicago River is annually dyed green for the occasion.
In his encyclopaedic Natural History, Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus 23 AD – August 25, 79 AD) wrote that a menstruating woman who uncovers her body can scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightning. If she strips naked and walks around the field, caterpillars, worms and beetles fall off the ears of corn. Even when not menstruating, a nude woman can still lull a storm out at sea by stripping.
In Ireland and China, women have been known to lift up their skirts to chase off enemies. A story from The Irish Times (September 23, 1977) reported a potentially violent incident involving several men, that was averted by a woman exposing her genitals to the attackers.
According to Balkan folklore, when it rained too much, women would run into the fields and lift their skirts to scare the gods and end the rain. In Jean de La Fontaine’s Nouveaux Contes (1674), a demon is repulsed by the sight of a woman lifting her skirt.
These examples of women exposing their breasts or genitals had a so-called apotropaic function: ritual nudity was supposed to ward off malevolent influences or evil spirits.
The first part of the word, lull, is an onomatopoeic word, meaning that it imitates the source of the sound that it describes. It refers to a certain sound uttered when soothing a child, just as lala refers to singing a song. In Swedish, the word lulla means ‘to hum a lullaby’, and in Sanskrit, the word lolati means ‘to rock’. In Middle Dutch, the word lollen meant ‘to mutter’.
The origin of the second part of the word is still uncertain. It could simply be a preposition – to lull by – but it could also be derived from bye-bye, a common phrase in lullabies.