Leap Day Traditions Around the World

We’ve just entered into a New Year and not only that, 2016 happens to be a Leap Year. That extra day at the end of February is meant to keep our calendar synced with the astronomical/seasonal year. Ever since Leap Years were first instituted over 2,000 years ago, many cultures have developed various traditions and customs to observe on Leap Day. A few of our favorites include:

  • Ireland: In Ireland, an historic tradition on Leap Day is for women to propose to men. The legend states that St. Brigid of Kildare asked St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men after hearing complaints from single women that their suitors were too shy. Originally he only allowed women to do so one day every seven years but with persuasion from St. Brigid he allowed such proposals to take place every Leap Day. Supposedly, it is good luck for women to propose on this day and Ireland isn’t the only country observing this tradition. In Finland it is also considered good luck for women to propose on Leap Day. In Scotland, it is believed that Queen Margaret, who was unmarried at the time, established a law that women could propose on Leap Day but only if they were wearing a red petticoat while doing so.

  • Denmark: Like the countries listed above, Denmark also observes the tradition of women proposing to men on Leap Day but Denmark is unique for two reasons: 1) instead of the 29th, Danish Leap Day is celebrated on the 24th, dating back to when Caesar first introduced Leap Year in AD 8; 2) if the man turns the woman down, he has to give the woman 12 pairs of gloves.

  • Greece: Whereas many countries think it is good luck to propose on Leap Day, in Greece it is considered bad luck to get married within a Leap Year (especially on February 29th).

  • France: Every Leap Day since 1980, France publishes La Bougie du Sapeur, a satirical newspaper. It was started by Christian Bailly and Jacques Debuisson as a joke and has since continued every Leap Year, with its latest edition coming out today. The name translates to “The Soldier’s Candle” an 1896 comic book character, Camember. He was a soldier as well as a Leap Year baby.

In addition to the traditions observed around the world, many countries have taken the time to raise awareness about amphibian extinction. On Leap Day many zoos and museums have held events centered around frogs and other amphibians since the frog has become a symbol for Leap Year. The U.S., South Africa, and South Asia were just a few of the countries who took part in “Leaping Ahead of Extinction,” an international program initiated by Amphibian Ark to educate people about endangered amphibians through activities and lectures. In Australia, zoos in Melbourne and Perth have held special events and exhibitions on frog conservation. And in India, zoo educational officials have held workshops and outreach programs when it comes to amphibian conservation.

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