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Parallel’s Guide To Leap Day


Saturday will mark an event that only happens once in blue moon, or rather, once every four years.

The “leap day” this 29 February exists so as to tidy up the messy business of the Earth’s spin time. For the earth to make one full annual rotation it doesn’t take 365 days but instead, roughly 365.25 days – the extra day every four years effectively scoops up this overtime.

But the rough nature of this figure is even more complicated, this is why there are more rules about leap years being divisible by 100 but not by 400, because technically we need to lose three leap years every 400 years. Confused? So was Julius Caesar when he introduced the new calendar… and it’s why it took a few stabs to get things right.

This highly exceptional day is, however, best known as the “subversive” day when women are “allowed” to propose marriage to their partners. The tradition’s origins are hotly contested: one version of events states that it was the Irish Saint Bridget who complained to her more famous friend, Saint Patrick, that women have to do all the waiting in courtship, so the kindly Saint Patrick let women have one day every four years on which to pop the question. (It seems more likely that the tradition wasn’t really practiced until the 19th century.)

The folklore doesn’t stop there; there are a range of punishments meted out to men who refuse. In Denmark, leap day is celebrated on 24 February and declining men must buy the proposing woman twelve pairs of gloves, whereas in Finland the refusal gift is not a heap of gloves but instead some fabric for a new skirt. Of course, in 2020 woman can marry whomever they want, ask whenever they want and they don’t even have to marry men if that’s not their thing.

The day is, nevertheless, still exceptional for some and especially for those born on a leap day. People born on the 29 February are known as “leapers” (not be confused with lepers) and they only get to celebrate their birthdays every four years – as such they will probably claim to be four-times younger than they actually are. In the event you meet a leaper, let them have their moment because, after all, they get very few.

The North American town of Anthony, Texas prides itself on throwing the greatest ever “leapling” birthday party of the year but there are a myriad other ways you can celebrate this extra special “extra day”.

Buy The Most Infrequent Newspaper In The World


The most infrequent satirical newspaper ever written will be sold for the first time in four years this Monday in Paris and across newsstands in France. This quadrennial is called ‘La Bougie du Sapeur’ (The Candle Sapper) was started as a leap day newspaper in 1980. With a strict ban on subscriptions (how would they keep track of addresses?) you’ll need to pick up a copy in one of Paris’s beautiful and ornate curbside kiosks and head to a corner café to read the news over an espresso or two. 

So there you have it. A bit of history and some fun things to do – hopefully the 29th of February will no longer be a leap into the unknown.