Leap Year 2016: Should February 29 be a Public Holiday?

Julius Caesar's successor Augustus was responsible for altering the calendar in Roman times. This statue of the emperor was included in a exhibition in Rome, Italy, in August, 2013. TIZIANA FABI

Leap Year 2016: What you need to know

A leap year, where an extra day is added to the end of February, happens every four years. Pope Gregory XIII coined the term "leap year" in 1582. He declared that a year that is divisible by 100, but not by 400, is not a leap year. So, 2000 was a leap year under the Gregorian calendar, as was 1600. But 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.

It takes the Earth a year to fully circumnavigate the sun, which is approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 47 seconds. Every four years an extra day is added to February, the month with the fewest days, to keep our calendars on track. So leap years are necessary in order to align our modern day Gregorian calendar year with the solar year.

Under Julius Caesar, February had 30 days and the month named after him—July—had 31. August had only 29 days. When Caesar Augustus became Emperor he added two days to "his" month to make August the same as July. If we didn't add an extra day every four years, we would lose approximately six hours from our calendar each year.

February 29 is the day to propose

According to research by relationship website eHarmony.co.uk, around 150,000 women in Britain who are currently dating or in a relationship plan to pop the question to their partner.

The tradition dates back to 5th century Ireland, when St. Brigid complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait too long for men to pop the question. St. Patrick suggested that women should be allowed to defy convention, and propose on 29 February; "leap days."

Others believe the tradition originates in 1288 when Queen Margaret of Scotland, then aged just five, declared that a woman could propose to any man she liked on February 29. If the man refused, he would be forced to pay a fine: a kiss,one pound, a silk dress, or 12 pairs of gloves.

February 29 should be a bank holiday

There is a British campaign to make February 29 a bank holiday given that "the average salaried employee is losing out on £113 during a leap year as the additional day's work is unpaid" according to a public petition to the UK Parliament.

While in the U.S., Karl Savage, a high school teacher from Maryland, tried to kick-start a global "No Work on Leap Day Revolution" in 2008, when the extra day fell on a Friday. Unfortunately, support for the proposal was limited. The "No Work on Leap Day Revolution" Facebook page has just 168 likes. The petition itself currently has 440 signatories.

Leap Year superstitions

One in five engaged couples in Greece avoid getting married in a leap year because they believe it's bad luck.

In Italy proverbs like "anno bisesto, anno funesto" meaning "leap year, doom year" warn against planning significant life events in a leap year.

In Russia it is believed a leap year is likely to generate strange weather patterns and a greater risk of death. Beans and peas planted in a leap year will "grow the wrong way" according to farming folklore. An old Scottish proverb also suggests that leap years are bad for farming and livestock in particular: "Leap year was ne'er a good sheep year."