How often does a leap year occur?

How often does a leap year occur?
The origins of leap year
Fox - Fox 9 / VideoElephant

Well, no-one asked really asked for it, but we’ve got an extra day this February as 2024 is a leap year.

February 29 can be a curious day, given it's a relatively rare occurrence, and people have plenty of questions when it comes to this addition to the calendar.

There’s also something of a mystique surrounding the day, as well as unusual traditions. As the old (and very outdated) adage goes, if you're a woman February 29 is the only day you’re allowed to propose to a man.

This is everything you need to know about February 29 and leap years.

How often do we get leap years?

Leap years take place every four years. We get the extra day on February 29 this year, with the next one due to take place on February 29, 2028.

Leap years are also evenly divisible by four. So: 1996, 2000, 2004, 2020 and 2024.

Why do we have leap years?


Simply put, the reason we have leap years is because the Earth’s orbit isn’t exactly 365 days long, resulting in what's known as 'drift'. In fact, the solar year is actually 365.242 days.

So, the Earth’s orbit actually takes around 365 days and six hours to orbit the sun. Therefore, leap years are in place to make sure that our calendars line up with events in the solar system, such as equinoxes and solstices.

It wasn’t always this way, though, and the calendar we use today is actually the result of some fine tuning going back thousands of years.

The Romans first used a calendar which featured 355 days, before the Julian calendar was introduced in 46 BCE which counted a year at 365.25 days.

There were still problems, though, despite the fact it was the calendar used in the West for hundreds of years until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century.

What happens to someone born on a leap year?

The result of being born in a leap year on February 29 can actually be a bit of a pain from a logistical point of view, especially when it comes to paper work. There are some circumstances where people born on this day are actually required to have their birth date to be officially listed on either February 28 or March 1, but it can be an issue for some.

UK law, for example, states that when a child is born on a leap day, February 29, their official birthday is actually on February 28 when it’s a non-leap year.

It is estimated that there are around five million people alive who were born on February 29. So while relatively rare, there are plenty of “leaplings” out there.

While they will celebrate their birthday every year like the majority of people, their birthday only officially comes around every four years. In these cases, people will often host special celebrations to mark the milestone.

Sign up for our free indy100 weekly newsletter

How to join the indy100's free WhatsApp channel

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings

The Conversation (0)