Raise a glass to leap year babies

Any child born today will celebrate their birthday every four years. Margaret Neylon looks at the significance of emerging on Feb 29

Thirty days hath September,

April, June and November;

All the rest have thirty-one

Save February, she alone

Hath eight days and a score

Till leap year gives her one day more

YES, 2012 is special because, as a leap year, it gives us an extra day to our calendar.

The calendar as we now know it was developed in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, but the origin of the Leap Year goes back even further, to Julius Caesar in 100BC. The early Romans had a calendar of 355 days, but this complicated dates for seasonal festivals so they created a 22 day-month every second year.

Caesar later simplified this by extending the year to 365 days, but there was still the problem of the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun being just over 365 days each year.

It takes 365.242 days for the Earth to revolve fully around the Sun. If we didn’t insert the Feb 29 every four years, we would lose six hours each year from our present calendar, adding up to a whopping 24 days over a century.

It was Sosigenes, Caesar’s astronomer, who calculated that this problem would be sorted out if they added an extra day every four years.

When Pope Gregory XIII refined it he made a couple of rules. Firstly, the year must be evenly divided by four, but it should not be evenly divided by 100 with the exception of being evenly divided by 400 (hence the year 2000 was a leap year).

That’s the explanation of why the leap year exists, but is there really any special significance to this day? Most people know that a woman was given the right to propose marriage to a man during a leap year, and apparently we have St Brigid to thank for this freedom. According to legend, Brigid asked St Patrick to set aside this day every four years for this special purpose in order to bring about a natural balance between men and women, just as the calendar is naturally balanced every four years. In some traditions, Feb 29 is also known as ‘Bachelors’ Day’.

If he decides to remain a bachelor he has to pay a forfeit: in some traditions he has to give the woman either money or a gown, while in the upper classes he would give her 12 pairs of gloves, so that she can hide the fact that she is not wearing an engagement ring.!

For those who are born on a leap day, they share the date with St Oswald, the Archbishop of York, who died on Feb 29, 992. If they live in Scotland, they may prefer to keep their birth date quiet as there it is considered to be unlucky to be born on that date.

And, no matter when you become engaged, if you are in Greece you might prefer to steer clear of getting married during a leap year, as they believe it is the worst year to tie the knot.

Leap day babies are known as ‘leapers’, and they have the one advantage over non-leapers, which is that they never really get old. For instance, a leaper may have been born in 1952 but this year they will celebrate their 16th birthday.

Leapers share their day with quite a few celebrities down the years, from the Italian composer Rossini (born 1722) to self-help guru Anthony Robbins (1960).

The Leap Year Project was developed by a former pastor named Victor Saad who is based in the US and says he wants to help people realise their dreams and change their lives.

It’s a simple project which began as an exchange of ideas between Saad and some of his friends. He says: “Everyone has had ideas, dreams and thoughts about creating change in their lives or around the world.

“Though it seems like there is too much going wrong and too little time, 2012 is a leap year and we are inviting you to take a risk to change your life, your community or your world for the better.”

Becoming involved in the Leap Year Project is simple. Firstly, decide what ‘leap of faith’ you want to take. It can be anything from cleaning up graffiti to befriending a newcomer to your neighbourhood, growing vegetables or arranging a street party.

The choices are endless, but it should preferably involve other people and, by fulfilling your dream, you enhance the lives of yourself and your neighbours.

The Leap Year Project (www.leapyearproject.org) is worldwide and aims to give inspiration to people to make important, positive changes in their community no matter who they are or where they are.

It looks like this special day is finally being acknowledged. So, go on, raise a glass to all those leapers with the cocktail (see panel) which was invented on Feb 29, 1928, at London’s Savoy Hotel.

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