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What’s so special about this date and why do we have an extra day? It takes 24 hours for our calendar to catch up with the sun. While Feb. 29 may feel like your average day, its once-every-four-years status has long linked it to myth and lore.

Legend has it that 400 yrs ago, women weren’t allowed to propose marriage to men… except on leap day. While the source of this switcheroo isn’t 100 percent clear, folklore traces the tradition to fifth-century Ireland, when St. Bridget supposedly complained to St. Patrick that gals were sick of waiting around for their procrastinating men to pop the question. Patrick consented to a leap day role reversal and, by some accounts, also declared that men who declined the proposal would be fined!

A year isn’t really 365 days contrary to what your science teacher taught you in school. Our planet actually takes 365 1/4 days to revolve around the sun. The six additional hours each year add up to an extra 24 hours over four years, at which point we add a day to our calendar in order to keep us in sync with the sun. Without leap day, annual events would slowly shift seasons—eventually, we’d be celebrating Christmas in July.

While the first leap day was likely observed by the Egyptians, Caesar is credited for incorporating a leap year into the Julian calendar in 46 B.C.

If a day is added every four years to the calendar then how are birthdays celebrated? People born on Feb. 29 are called “leaplings” or “leapers.” Since their actual date of birth only comes around a quarter of the time, leaplings often celebrate non–leap year birthdays on Feb. 28 or March 1.

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