Leap Day: February 29 traditions from across the globe

Taking a look at Leap day traditions across the world, from reversed proposals to a satirical newspaper

A green background with a calendar showing the number 29 on it with 'Leap year traditions across the world' written beside it in white
February 29 From proposals to pig trotter noodles, we have a look at some traditions from February 29, leap day.

FEBRUARY 29 is the rarest of days, happening once every four years, and it has some unusual traditions associated with it.

Throughout history, different countries have taken different meanings from the extra day. In some cultures the leap day brings good fortune but others believe it leaves people unlucky in love.

Ireland and Britain: Reversed proposals

Woman proposes on leap day
Woman proposes on leap day The pair hug after the proposal (Tabatha Fireman/British Airways i360/PA)

In Ireland the leap day is associated with women proposing marriage to a man. This is supposedly because St Brigid complained to St Patrick about men taking too long to propose to their partners, with St Patrick compromising and ‘allowing’ women to propose to men on this date every four years, with the day becoming known as ‘Ladies Privilege’.

The tradition was popularised by the romantic comedy film Leap Year in which Amy Adams travels to Ireland to propose to her love interest at a concert in Dublin.

Various countries: Reverse proposal refusals

Icicle gloves £45, Dune
Gloves In Denmark, if a man refuses a woman's proposal on February 29, then he must gift her 12 pairs of gloves to hide the shame of no wedding ring

The ‘Ladies Privilege’ tradition is widespread, however, if a marriage proposal is refused, different countries have different prices that the man must pay.

In Denmark, the man must gift the woman 12 pairs of gloves, with tradition dictating that it allows the woman to hide ‘the shame’ of having no wedding ring.

In Finland, the price of a refused proposal is enough material to make a skirt.

In Ireland, there are some reports of a silk gown, gloves or even a fur coat being the price for refusing a proposal.

France: the world’s least frequent newspaper

The French have their own quirky tradition, which also happens to be the world’s least-circulated newspaper.

La Bougie du Sapeur is a satirical newspaper that is usually filled with fake ads and satirical stories, which is only ever published on February 29.

Germany: Decorate a birch tree to show love

Silver birch are among the young trees you can buy bare root
Birch trees Women decorate birch trees and put the outside of the houses of their significant others

In the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, there’s a tradition that on the eve of May 1 men decorate a birch tree with paper ribbons and put it in front of the house of their girlfriend, wife, or someone they have a crush on.

This is reversed on a leap day, with women taking their turn.

Taiwan: Pig trotter noodles to keep the parents alive

There are more pigs in Iowa than there are people. Shelly Hauschel/Shutterstock
Pig Trotter soup Taiwanese daughters cook pig trotter noodles for their parents on Leap Day. Shelly Hauschel/Shutterstock

In Taiwan, parents are thought to be more likely to die during a leap year than any other year.

To help prevent this, some married daughters return home during the leap month with pig trotter noodles for her parents – a dish that is thought to bring them good health and good fortune.

Why is there a leap year?

It was introduced so that the Gregorian calendar year stays in sync with the seasonal year as it takes 365 days, six hours and nine minutes for the earth to travel around the sun.

Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus is the reason that the extra day is added to February.

Under Julius Caesar’s reign, his month of July had 31 days, while February had 30 days and August had just 29 days.

When Augustus became Emperor he pinched two days from February to add to his month of August.