Leap years – which see an extra day (29th) added to February every four years to allow for the Earth taking 365.2422 days to orbit the sun – are marked differently across Europe.
In Britain, for instance, February 29 is the time when the woman in a relationship can break with convention and propose to her man.
That’s not the case over the channel in France. But the French do have one interesting quirk associated with this day – a newspaper called La Bougie du sapeur (The Sapper’s Candle). Founded in 1980 it only publishes on February 29, meaning this year will be its 10th edition.
Italy and Spain both consider the leap year or day to be bad luck. The man set to be the latter’s new prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, born in 1972, is one of a select club to be born on February 29. That means Spain has just elected an 11-year-old to lead the country. Or, if you prefer, a 44-year-old.
A few Spanish proverbs sum up nicely the country’s attitude: “Año bisiesto, año siniestro” (leap year, sinister year), “Año bisiesto y año de pares, año de azares” (leap year and even year, random year” and “Año bisiesto, ni casa, ni viña, ni huerto, ni puerto” (Leap year, no home, nor vineyard, nor orchard, nor port).
Some leap years are not even marked on February 29. Hungary, for instance, has its on the 24th, a throwback to Roman traditions. This day sees February 23 repeated, with the remaining days of February shifted forward by 24 hours and a February 29 added, like elsewhere.
This impacts on the country’s tradition of celebrating the day of the year associated with one’s name. It’s like a second birthday. If you’re called Tibor, for example, you get to celebrate on April 14.
Mátyás (which translates as Matthew) is normally celebrated on February 24, but, in a leap year this is shifted to February 25.
There are no names toasted on February 24 in a leap year.
Sweden, meanwhile, is one of few countries to have had a February 30. It had to add the day in 1712 because of an earlier error, which left the country, which then also included Finland, out of sync.