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29 Feb by iamsuperkane on flickr

All about the 29th of February – origins, cultural significance, and historical events related to Leap Day

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February is known for being the shortest month in the calendar, as having only twenty-eight days. However, every four years, an extra day is added to the month. As a result, there are 366 days instead of the usual 365 days in a year. This is called a “leap year”.

Who invented the Leap year?

Julius Caesar, the greatest man of all time, originated the idea of a leap year. In early Roman days, calendars had 355 days in a year where, every other year, a month lasting 22 or 23 days was created so that festivals could continue occurring during the same season. To create the calendar as it is today, Caesar came up with the idea of adding days to months of the year. His astronomer, Sosigenes, made the calculations, and worked out that every four years, an extra day was added to the 28-day-long month of then-called Februarius.

In our solar system, where a Julian or solar year lasted exactly 365.25 days, a year is defined as the duration in which astronomical objects complete one orbit, but never in whole numbers. In order to correct this error in the Julian algorithm, Pope Gregory the Eighth created the Gregorian Calendar which most people use today. This led to the addition of an extra day in February to the years that are multiples of four. However, these exclude years which can be divided by 100, unless they are also divisible by 400 – 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, but 1600 and 2000 were!

Cultural significance of leap years

Traditions surrounding leap days are rooted in love and marriage (like February isn’t already about love)!


In fifth-century Ireland, St Brigid of Kildare met St. Patrick. They proposed that women should propose to men, rather than the other way round, every four years. This later became known as “Ladies’ Day” or “Ladies’ Privilege”. St. Patrick refused to propose to her, so he then politely established another Leap Day tradition, that should a man reject a woman’s proposal on that day, he should make up for it by giving her a gift, such as a silk gown or gloves.


In some cultures, such as Greek, getting married during a leap year is considered unlucky, but there aren’t any famous examples to prove it.

Andreas F. Borchert

(C) Andreas F. Borchert

What if I was born on Leap Day?

Anyone born on the 29th of February is called a “leaper” and does not get to celebrate their actual birthday in 365-day-long years. Rather, they celebrate it on either the day before, the 28th of February, or a day later, the 1st of March. However, important documents such as passports and identity cards still show the birth date as the 29th.

Another point, the probability that a person is born on the 29th of February is one in 1,461. In addition, the Guinness Book of Records states that there is only one family that have produced three consecutive generations born on the 29th of February, as well as the number of children born on this date within the same family – the Keogh family, consisting of Peter Anthony, born in Ireland in the year 1940, his son Peter Eric, born in the UK in 1964, and his granddaughter Bethany Wealth in 1996.

St. Oswald’s Day is also celebrated on this day, but to commemorate the archbishop of York’s death, which happened on 29th February, 992. During common years, it is celebrated a day before, on the 28th, but this year as with all leap years, it will be celebrated on the 29th.

Leap Day in history

During leap years alone, Rome burned in the year 64, gold was discovered in 1848 in California, and the Titanic sank in 1912.


Surprisingly, quite a few historical events happened on this exact date throughout the years. The first known one dates to the year 886, where Odo, count of Paris, was crowned the King of West Francia, now modern-day France in Compiegne, in the north.


Other historic Leap Day events include:

  • 1712
    There is a 30th day in February in the Swedish calendar, which was abolished the following year. This only lasted for 12 years, and they returned to the Julian calendar.
  • 1768
    Polish nobles formed the Bar Confederation, to defend the independence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth against Russians.
  • 1892
    St. Petersburg, Florida was incorporated.
  • 1916
    The territory or Tokelau was annexed by the United Kingdom.
  • 1940
    Singer, songwriter and comedienne Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar for her acting in Gone With the Wind.
  • 1992
    Bosnia and Herzegovina marked its first day of its independence referendum from Yugoslavia.
  • 1996
    The Siege of Sarajevo ended.
  • 2012
    North Korea stopped enriching uranium and nuclear tests in exchange for food aid in the United States.
  • 2020
    Joe Biden won the South Carolina primary election, leading up to the presidential election in November of that year.

One final point, as rare as it sounds, Rare Disease Day is celebrated on this date, the first one being on 29th February 2008. This particular date was chosen because of how rare this day is!

Freedom Day Monument in Birgu Square

A Guide to the Public Holidays in Malta

The island nation of Malta has the most public holidays in the European Union. These hold both national and religious importance to Malta as they commemorate historical events, including the birth of the Church in Malta, the departure of Malta’s colonisers, Christianity in Malta and other significant moments.