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leap year 1

You may be working for free today says ALIX NORMAN, as she looks at the strange happenings surrounding February 29

Did you know that 2024 is bissextile? Sounds like something that should carry an ‘adults only’ warning, doesn’t it? Or possibly a disease that afflicts tandem cyclists.

In actuality, all this means is that 2024 is a leap year. The term goes all the way back to Roman times when Julius Caesar decided the calendar didn’t quite align with the solar year. He decreed an extra day should be added to the final month (which, in his time, meant February) every four years.

Unfortunately, his maths was a little off: if we’d stuck with the Julian calendar, we’d now be half a month ahead of ourselves. The spring equinox would take place in April, the summer solstice in July. And western Christmas would occur in what we currently know as January.

So in 1582, we got the Gregorian calendar – adjusted to better align with Earth’s orbit around the sun.

Interestingly, this new calendar did not give us a leap year every four years. Only one in every four turn-of-the-century years have an extra day. If you can divide the years ending in 00 by both 4 and 400, they’re leap years (like the year 2000). But if you can’t, they’re not. Which means in 1700, 1800, and 1900 February had just 28 days.

Time, it seems, is very complex. So much so that, in 1972, we got leap seconds – an extra second added to the clock every couple of years to ensure atomic time and solar time remain in sync. The last addition was in 2016. And there’s another possible leap second coming up on December 31 this year. But we’re not sure just yet, because apparently the earth has been rotating relatively quickly of late…

The mind boggles!

Anyway, back to a more definite event: the extra day this Thursday. In years that have a February 29, we tend to see slightly higher spending (yes, even one day can affect the economy!). It’s good for people who are paid by the hour, bad for those who are paid by the month. And, apparently, it’s terrible for those in the wedding business…

CYSTAT has a very interesting graph of all the marriages in Cyprus since 1974. As the population has increased, so has the number of weddings. But what stands out a mile is the crash every four years. 1976, 1980, 1984 (and all the way through to the current day) see far fewer marriages than the surrounding years. The reason?

“We grew up knowing you should never get married in a leap year,” says 74-year-old Skevi Louca from Genagra. “It was considered incredibly unlucky. If you did, your marriage was doomed to fail!”

In both Cyprus and Greece, this is a long-standing tradition. As is the notion that couples who divorce in a leap year will never find love again.

The reason may possibly, once again, lie with the Romans. They believed that February was the month of the dead; a time during which Hades walked the earth. Adding an extra day gave the god of the underworld another 24 hours in the realm of the living, making the entire month deeply unlucky.

It was a superstition that passed on to the ancient Greeks and, to this day, perpetuates in parts of the region.

“There’s a superstition that says one should not buy anything significant in a leap year, nor do anything of any importance,” adds Skevi; a statement that is echoed by a number of other elderly people.

This may be cause for a pause if you’re looking at purchasing, say, a new home in 2024…

In the first nine months of 2023, Cyprus saw 8,681 property transfers, and 9,374 sale agreements (in total, a value of €4.7 billion). It looks like it’s all going to slow down in 2024, suggests Marinos Kyneyirou, president of the Cyprus Council for Registration of Real Estate Agents. But interest rate hikes, elevated loan costs, Ukraine, Gaza and Houthis are all far more major factors than leap year luck!

Meanwhile, over in Scotland, superstition dictates this will be a bad year, not for property, but for livestock! The proverb ‘leap year was ne’er a good sheep year’ has been recorded as far back as the 1816 Farmer’s Magazine, when rapid temperature changes turned snow to ice, and lambs died in their thousands.

In Russia, leap years were once believed to be associated with extreme weather and, consequently, premature death. And in Italy there’s a delightful saying ‘anno bisesto tutte le donne senza sesto’. Roughly translated, this means ‘in a leap year, women are erratic’. We STRONGLY recommend you do not, at any point in 2024, utter this to your wife!

Meanwhile, in Texas, there’s a town called Anthony that’s proclaimed itself the Leap Year Capital of the world. Every four years since 1988, hundreds of leaplings (those born on February 29) pour into the town for a two-day festival.

Statistically speaking, just one in 1,461 people are born on February 29. But in actuality, holidays, weather and mood make us more likely to get cosy in certain months. So births aren’t spread equally throughout the year..

In the UK, four of the most common birthdays are in September, with the highest number of births on the 27th. (Count back nine months and blame the eggnog). December 25 and 26, and January 1 see the least (seasonal scheduling? Why, that would be unethical!). February 29, when adjusted for the four-year gap, is actually quite common. Though February 30 probably saw the lowest amount of births in recorded history…

Yes, in 1712, there was indeed a February 30…

It took place only once, and only in Sweden which, in trying to shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, completely mismanaged its maths. Let’s just hope the Swedes were being paid by the day that year.

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