Tag Archives: leap year traditions

Happy Leap Year!


The times dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) February 29, 1908, Page 2, Image 2, http://tinyurl.com/7r23ljd

To some, 2012 is just another year, and February 29th is just another day. But then there are those of us, writer included, who find rare excitement in the 366th day that exists only once every four years in the Gregorian calendar. Well, that is, once every four years unless the year is evenly divisible by 100 and also not evenly divisible by 400…Confusing? This clip from The Daily morning Astorian helps to explain:


The Daily morning Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) February 28, 1884, Image 2, http://tinyurl.com/79zrvgg

Leap Years spice up the monotony of the common 365 day calendar, providing reasons for celebration and defiance of social norms, at least during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as covered by America’s historic newspapers. Dances and balls were often held in support of the tradition of Leap Year proposals, where women would propose marriage to the mate of their choice (discussed in one of our previous blogs: “Searching for Love in All the Right Pages”), and parties were thrown to celebrate the rare day. Leap Year proposals actually date back to the 17th century, and Leap Year newspaper feature writers still speculate about the tradition today.


The Madras pioneer. (Madras, Crook County, Or.) December 21, 1911, Image 1, http://tinyurl.com/76s2f3v


The Paducah evening sun. (Paducah, Ky.) February 29, 1908, Page 2, Image 2, http://tinyurl.com/88j6luw

Apparently, if a man were to refuse a woman’s marriage proposal on Leap Year day, he would be obligated to give the woman a silk gown and a kiss…but only if she was wearing a red petticoat when she popped the question. Of course, red petticoats, silk gowns, and strict gender roles are now antiquated notions, generally speaking. In today’s society, women can propose marriage, if they wish, on any day of any year, and women around the world now exercise freedoms that were once reserved for men only. For example, starting on February 29thof this year, the 19th annual Algarve Cup international women’s football tournament will be held in southern Portugal. The United States women’s national soccer team will be in attendance, among teams from several other countries. Also, modern women across the United States are free to vote in all political elections, and in fact, Oregon women have been eligible to vote since 1912, making 2012 the Oregon women’s suffrage centennial.  The political cartoon below illustrates an interesting relationship between leap year, traditions, and votes for women as perceived in 1920:


The Evening herald. (Klamath Falls, Or.) January 13, 1920, Image 1, http://tinyurl.com/88l4g7s

Businesses have historically used Leap Year hype for advertising purposes, and consumers were free to celebrate the many sales that were held on Feb. 29thas well. While several businesses continue to offer deals on Leap Year day, it’s doubtful that we will ever see a 29 cent sale in the 21st century.

Los Angeles herald. (Los Angeles, Calif.) February 29, 1908, Page 12, Image 12, http://tinyurl.com/7w8b68k

While social traditions and market prices provide interesting food for thought this leap year, it is impossible to overlook the most curious implication of Leap Year day, which applies to all of the people born on Feb. 29th!  What is it like to technically only have a birthday every four years, if that?

Bandon recorder. (Bandon, Or.) March 07, 1901, Image 3, http://tinyurl.com/7nnllsy

Surely  you could celebrate on Feb. 28th or March 1st, but would it be the same? The limited occurrence of February 29th must make Leap Year birthdays all the more special…


St. Paul daily globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) February 29, 1896, Image 1, http://tinyurl.com/7po9vtv

While “Leaplings” or “Leapers” – as people born on Feb. 29th are often called – do not have a precise birth date anniversary every year, they do have the privilege of being the only people who can join the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies.


The Guthrie daily leader. (Guthrie, Okla.) February 29, 1904, Image 1, http://tinyurl.com/7proy26

One thing is certain: babies born on February 29, 1916 in Lawrence county, Pennsylvania, gained an advantage over the rest of us thanks to their rare birth date:


The day book. (Chicago, Ill.) February 29, 1916, LAST EDITION, Image 25, http://tinyurl.com/85bn229

As the world continues to leap and bound into the future, remember that 100 years ago on Feb. 29th, people across the nation were celebrating the special day.

The times dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) February 29, 1912, Page 9, Image 9, http://tinyurl.com/7bb9tst

What will people be saying about Leap Year 100 years from now? Will they be looking back at our current newspapers to find interesting Leap Year clips? Perhaps we should start some new Leap Year traditions this year to give them something more to think about? Until then, happy birthday to all of the Leaplings out there, and have a happy and safe Leap Year!


Also, in the spirit and honor of Black History Month, don’t forget that content from the Portland New Age, Oregon’s first African American newspaper, from 1896-1907, is available for searching and browsing online through Historic Oregon Newspapers, and offers a unique perspective on the history of African American culture in Oregon. A brief essay on the history of the New Age can be found here: http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/history/newage/ .

Search and browse through historic African American newspapers from all states here: http://libguides.marist.edu/AfricanAmericanNews .

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