The Science: A leap year occurs once every four years when an extra day, February 29th, is added to the calendar. While we all learn that the earth rotates around the sun in 365 days the solar system isn’t so tidy in working to exact days. It actually takes roughly a quarter of a day more and to stop our seasons from slowly getting out of alignment with the months an extra day is added every four years to ‘reset’ the balance.
The Romance: Supposedly initiating in Ireland there is a tradition that women can propose to men on a leap day. This lead to some amusing postcards in 1908 (above)
The Singing Pirates: When I think of a leap year I always think of the Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan which I was taken to see at the theatre as a child. In the story our hero Frederick reaching his 21st year celebrates being released from his apprenticeship aboard the ship of the Pirate King. This was an accident when his hard of hearing nursemaid misheard his fathers wishes for him to be apprenticed as a ships pilot. On the coast of Cornwall he meets Mabel (the daughter of the very model of a modern major general) and they fall in love. Unfortunately the terms of his apprenticeship states that he remains apprenticed to the pirates until his 21st birthday (not 21st year), and so he must serve for another 63 years. Add in some dancing policemen and singing pirates into the mix and you have a great comic opera.