We have an extra day – a ‘Leap day’ every 4 years in order to keep the calendar straight. A solar year is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds long – almost but not quite 365¼ days – so not only every 4 years do we need this adjustment but 3 times in 400 years there is no leap year.
The calendar we use is known as the Gregorian Calendar and has been used since 1582 when under the rule of Pope Gregory XIII the science at the time was able to calculate more accurately than the Romans. The previous Julian Calendar that had been in use since 44BCE had been named after Julius Caesar who had introduced the ‘Leap Year’ after his own personal Astrologer had made his calculations.
A legend, dating back at to the dark ages, that women can propose to a man on 29th February. If he turns her down, tradition dictates he should buy her a dress, in Denmark he has to buy 12 pairs of gloves – presumably to allow her to hide the humiliating fact of no engagement ring.
Charming archaic traditions as they seem in our very liberated society no doubt it had a very practical and significant meaning when St Bridgit first negotiated the deal back in 5th century Ireland with no less a personage than St Patrick himself. Pre Christian Ireland saw women enjoy an equality and freedoms it would take 1600 years to win back, perhaps Brigit saw this one small victory against the coming subjugation.
It is a tradition that only seems to have become popular and widespread from the 19th century – a time that also saw Valentine’s Day Cards and white wedding dresses become popular. Those romantic Victorians!