Leap Day 2024: What makes February 29th so special

Leap year
Leap Day 2024: Why February 29th is a special day

There is only a leap year every four years, so people born on February 29th can celebrate their birthday appropriately and on time. In 2024 it will be that time again. (symbolic photo)

© Jan Woitas / Picture Alliance

This leap year also has a leap day – tens of thousands of people in Germany can celebrate their birthday again after a three-year break. Information and fun facts about February 29th.

For most people, February 29th probably passes like any other day, even if it only occurs every fourth year. But tens of thousands of people in Germany can finally celebrate on their real birthday – and don’t have to resort to February 28th or March 1st. The most important questions and answers about the 366th day…

Leap Day 2024: In which years is there a February 29th?

The basic principle is quite simple. Because February 29th is always on the calendar if the year is divisible by four. For all sports fans: As a rule, every year in which the Summer Olympic Games take place is also a leap year. 2020 was a leap year, as were 2016 and 2012. The exception is years that are also divisible by 100. Therefore, the years 1800 and 1900 did not have February 29th, nor will 2100 have one. But no rule without exception: If the year is divisible by 400, there will be a February 29th again – just like in the year 2000.

Leap year: why is it so complicated?

Quite simply: because the Earth does not orbit the sun in exactly 365 days, but in 365 days, five hours and almost 49 minutes. So that this so-called tropical year corresponds as closely as possible to the calendar year, a 366th day is inserted every four years (with exceptions). If this were not done, Christmas would fall sometime in midsummer. But despite the complicated calculation, the calendar year is still 27 seconds behind on average. That adds up and means: in a few centuries another additional day will probably have to be declared.

Are these birthday children special?

Well, at least as far as the date is concerned. The chances of being born on February 29th are about 1 in 1461. Four times more likely – i.e. 4 in 1461 – that it will happen on another date. But the Norwegian Henriksen family didn’t care about such number games: in all three leap years in the 1960s, it grew on February 29th – the siblings Heidi (1960), Olav (1964) and Leif-Martin (1968) were each seen in the distance the light of the world from four years old. The Americans David and Louise Estes later achieved the same coup with Xavier (2000), Remington (2004) and Jade (2008), and the couple had two more children in between.

Are there any celebrities born on February 29th?

Naturally. The most important birthday child is probably Gioachino Rossini. The Italian composer, born in Pesaro in 1792, created classics of comic opera such as “Barber of Seville”. At the age of 37 and with 39 operas under his belt, he left the stage – and lived for almost 40 more years. The leap year celebrities still alive include the writers Martin Suter and Benedict Wells, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as well as professional footballer Benedikt Höwedes and model Lena Gercke, who won the first season of “Germany’s Next Top Model” in 2006.

Why was the day added to February?

The origin of this lies in antiquity. For a long time in ancient Rome, the year actually ended in February, while it began with Martius (March). Our twelfth month today was the tenth, which is why it is also called December (from the Latin word “decem”, “ten”). For centuries the Roman year counted 355 days; Every other year a whole leap month was placed after February in order to align the calendar with the position of the sun. Rome’s ruler Julius Caesar then ended this procedure in 46 BC and introduced longer months and only a single extra day every four years. This was still at the end of February, although with the Julian calendar reform the beginning of the year finally jumped to January 1st.


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