Dec 31, 2011 at 03:51pm IST

2012: A few tidbits on leap year

Thirty days hath September,

April, June and November;

All the rest have thirty-one,

Excepting February alone

Which hath but twenty-eight, in fine,

2012: A few tidbits on leap year

Did you know that Christopher Columbus survived because 1504 was a leap year?

Till leap year gives it twenty-nine

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Old English Saying

2012 is a leap year. Here are some interesting tidbits on leap year.

Where the concept of leap year originated:

It was the Romans who first designated February 29 as leap day. Later, a more precise formula was adopted in the 16th century when the Gregorian calendar fine-tuned the calculations to include a leap day in years only divisible by four.

How Christopher Columbus used the leap year to stay alive:

The famous explorer was marooned for several months on the small island of Jamaica. Though the island natives had initially offered food and provisions, Columbus' arrogant and overbearing attitude had so annoyed the natives that they stopped this altogether on February 29, 1504.

Facing starvation, Columbus came up with a plan. Consulting a shipboard almanac and finding that a lunar eclipse was due, he called together the native chiefs and announced to them that God would punish them if they did not supply his crew with food. And as an omen of God's intent to punish them, there would be a sign in the sky: God would darken the moon.

Right on cue, the lunar eclipse started. Columbus dramatically disappeared into his cabin as the natives began to panic and begged him to restore glow to the moon. After more than an hour, Columbus emerged from his cabin and announced that God was prepared to withdraw his punishment if the natives agreed to supply him and his crew with everything they needed. The native chiefs immediately agreed. Within minutes, the moon started emerging from shadow, leaving the natives in awe of Columbus' power. Columbus continued to receive food and supplies until he was rescued in June 1504.

When women could propose to man and the poor chap could not refuse:

The right of every woman to propose to the man of her choice on February 29 each leap year goes back hundreds of years when the leap year day had no recognition in English law. The day was 'leapt over' and ignored. It was decided that the day had no legal status, meaning that a break in tradition on this day was acceptable.

In Scotland, there was a law forbidding a man to refuse a proposal made to him on February 29. The punishment for such an offence was a heavy fine, ranging from 1 pound to a silk gown.

When man could get away with murder:

Since February 29 was leapt over and had no legal status in England, a crime on the day was considered no crime at all.

A wrong time:

In Scotland, it is thought unlucky to be born on February 29.

There is a Greek superstition that claims couples have bad luck if they marry during a leap year.

And a right time:

According to astrologers, those born under the sign of Pisces on February 29 have unusual talents and personalities reflecting their special status.

Never grow fruits:

Fruits should not be planted in a leap year, because they will not give birth each year.

When perfect division by four does not yield a leap year:

Years divisible by 100 but not by 400 are not considered leap years. For example, 2100, 2300 are not going to be leap years. The longest time between two leap years is 8 years. Last time was between 1896 and 1904. The next time will be between 2096 and 2104.

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