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What Is A Leap Year?

what is a leap year photo of february 29 2012 calendarI’m sure you’re already well aware that 2012 is a leap year, but what exactly does that mean? The answer to the question “what is a leap year” is a fairly simple one. A leap year is a year in which the calendar has an extra day added to it. This day is needed once every four years so that the calendar matches up to astronomical reality of how long the Earth takes to orbit the sun.

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar which is accepted for civil use internationally, and its years last for three hundred and sixty five days. This is meant to reflect the amount of time that the Earth takes to revolve around the sun. However, it actually takes about three hundred sixty five days and six hours for the Earth to orbit the sun. Thus, the calendar is always slightly ahead of the astronomical relationship between the Earth and the Sun. To ensure that this relationship stays as close as possible, those six hours are added together once every four years. At that time, their sum is twenty four hours or the equivalent of one day. That day is tacked onto the end of February which is the shortest month of the year.

Babies who are born on February twentieth ninth are called leap year babies, and they only have a true birthday once every four years. A baby born on February 29th of this year would not have another actual birthday until the next leap year. Thus, although they would have lived for four years, they will not have their first birthday until the next leap year in 2016.

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Leap years are not only a feature of the commonly used Gregorian calendar. In fact, all kinds of ancient calendars have also added extra days or months to ensure that their calendars kept pace with solar cycles. For instance, both the traditional Hebrew and the traditional Hindi calendars add extra months so that their lunisolar calendars are in tune with astrological cycles. In the Hebrew calendar, a thirteenth lunar month is added seven times every nineteen years. This extra month is called Adar Alef or Adar letter A. It is placed on the calendar right before Adar which is then renamed Adar Bet or Adar letter B. These months are added during years three, six, eight, eleven, fourteen, seventeen, and nineteen of every nineteen year cycle.

Leap years are necessary so that seasons stay in the same place and do not start to drift. However, various superstitions have also arisen regarding leap years. In many European countries, for instance, it is considered okay for women to propose to men only during leap years. In other countries, it is considered unlucky to get married during a leap year.

Want an easy way to remember when a leap year will occur?  Easy, just remember that every leap year corresponds with a U.S. presidential election.

For those of you who like to visualize stuff, this infographic created by CheapSally.com, will help you to better understand what a leap year is.

Cheap Sally Leap Year 2012 Infographic

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About the author

Diane Nassy

Diane is a New Jersey-based writer and blogger. She is a wife and the mom of a 9-year-old little boy. Through her blog, she wants to inspire moms to find Zen in their lives while offering practical tips and other valuable information to help families deal with everyday issues. Check out Diane's Google+ profile "

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