Good news this month for anyone whose birthday falls on 29th February – this is a Leap Year so you can celebrate your birthday on the correct day instead of 28th Feb or 1st March. Or maybe you don’t mind not having a birthday, because you claim to be only a quarter of your age!
Adding an extra day to the calendar every four years compensates for the fact that a period of 365 days is shorter than a solar year by almost 6 hours, and a person born on February 29th may be called a leapling or a leaper. Famous people born on 29th February include radio DJ Jonathan Coleman, singer Dinah Shore and actor Joss Ackland.
In Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, Frederic is finally released from his pirate apprenticeship when he turns 21, only to discover that because he was born on 29th February, and his contract states that he be released on his 21st birthday, he must serve for another 63 years. Luckily his girlfriend Mabel agrees to wait for him faithfully.
However, any woman unwilling to wait for her man to propose may take advantage of the tradition which gives women the right to propose on 29th February. As the story goes, the tradition of women romantically pursuing men in leap years began in 5th century Ireland, when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about the fair sex having to wait for men to propose.
In English law, the leap year day had no recognition (the day was ‘leapt over’ and ignored, hence the term ‘leap year’). It was considered, therefore, that as the day had no legal status, it was reasonable to assume that traditions also had no status. Consequently, women who were worried about being left on the shelf took advantage of this anomaly and proposed to the man they wished to marry.
It was also thought that since the leap year day corrected the calendar discrepancy, it was an opportunity for women to correct a tradition that was one-sided and unjust. So get down on your knees, ladies and pop the question!