Leap Year

Leap Day is February 29
••• Photo: Getty Images

2016 is a Leap Year. February has an "extra" day. The month will have 29 days instead of the 28 days it typically contains in common years.

What is a Leap Day?

In four year cycles, an extra day is added to our calendar. Adjustments are needed to ensure our calendar is always in synch with the time it takes for Earth to orbit the sun. To be precise, the Earth’s orbit of the sun takes place over 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds.

Those 5+ extra hours compound over time, so after four years, another day is added—Leap Day—to realign our calendar with the sun.

When is Leap Day?

Leap Day is February 29. Why February? Because one of the goals of having a calendar based on the solar year is to keep the Easter holiday in spring. To accomplish this, the calendar is adjusted so the vernal equinox is always on or near March 21.

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Celebrating Leap Year on Leap Day

There are various ways to celebrate Leap Day depending on your age and interests. If you have young kids, it's fun to use frog-themed projects to celebrate Leap Day. Families can create frog arts and crafts, make some frog decorated cupcakes or rally the neighbor kids and host a few competitions for jumping distances or skipping rope.

Looking for something to do for adults? Well, it is worth noting that Leap Day was, historically, the  day women could propose marriage to men.

In the fifth century, Saint Bridget told Saint Patrick it was unfair women had to wait for men to propose. In response, Saint Patrick allowed women to propose, but only on Leap Day. Obviously, in modern times women don't have to wait four years to express interest, but it's a story to share over dinner.

Also, for movie lovers, it could be a great day to watch “The Pirates of Penzance,” the Gilbert and Sullivan musical. In this entertaining story, an indentured pirate is set to regain his freedom on his 21st birthday. Yet, the guy was born on a Leap Day, meaning he only technically has a birthday every four years. Wackiness, dance and romance are all in the mix too.

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Why Isn't There a Leap Day Every 4 Years

 

Well, Leap Year does happen every four years...nearly. Even adding a day every four years doesn't keep Earth on track efficiently. In order to be in synch with the sun, the calendar must skip Leap Years a few times in each 400 year cycle. How is this determined? Well, one simply omits February 29 in century years not precisely divisible by 400. For example, 2000 and 2400 are Leap Years. 2100, 2200 and 2300 are not. Make sense? It can be a fun math game for those interested. Not into numbers? No worries, simply enjoy the extra day when it comes around. The calendar will always let you know when there is a Leap Day.