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Yes, 2024 Is a Leap Year! Why We Get an Extra Day (Almost) Every 4 Years

Yes, 2024 Is a Leap Year! Why We Get an Extra Day (Almost) Every 4 Years

Time flies, especially in February, the shortest month. But every four years (with one exception), we get a reprieve with a bonus day on February 29. The extra day extends a leap year to 366 days and solves a calendar quandary: the fact that it takes 365.2422 days, not an even 365, for the Earth to complete its orbit around the sun.

Without a Leap Day, that would be 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds lost every year. Seriously, we want our time back (fittingly, February 29 is also celebrated as National Time Refund Day). But even more important, leap years are about keeping our calendar aligned with the solar calendar and seasonal cues like the spring equinox. Without leap years, our calendar and the seasons would gradually drift out of sync at the rate of 24 days per century (Christmas in July, anyone?).

So when is leap year? Hint: If you recently wished someone a Happy 2024, you're getting hot.

Is 2024 a leap year?

Indeed, 2024 is a leap year. Thursday, February 29, 2024, is Leap Day. The next leap year comes around in 2028. If you know a special Pisces born on February 29, celebrate them big this year because their birthday won't fall on the actual date again for a while.

february 2024 desk calendar on wooden easel with the 29th day marking the leap year day
Nora Carol Photography - Getty Images

Is a leap year really every 4 years?

Not exactly. That formula accounts for a six-hour annual calendar discrepancy, and that's 11 minutes and 14 seconds too much. So here's the rule: Leap year is every four years, but not if the year is divisible by 100, unless it's also divisible by 400.

Examples:

  • 2024 is divisible by 4, but not 100, so it is a leap year.

  • 2100 is divisible by 4 and 100, but not 400, so it will not be a leap year.

  • 2400 is divisible by 4 and 400, so it will be a leap year.

Since 2000 was a leap year (divisible by 4 and 400), those living today have never skipped a leap year and may not be familiar with the once-a-century exception. But the rule goes back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII instituted the reformed Gregorian calendar, omitting leap years in 1700, 1800, 1900, and so on. The same year the calendar was adopted, the Church cut 10 days from October, jumping from the 4th to the 15th, to realign the calendar with the seasons. (And you thought February was short!)

Leap years originated with the Roman-era Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar. Based on the Egyptian solar calendar, it was a major improvement at the time, as seasonal drift was an issue for the Roman calendar before then. However, by using 365.25 days as the length of the year, the Julian calendar rounded slightly and overcorrected problem, adding one too many Leap Days per century. The Gregorian calendar addressed that.

statue of julius ceasar in front of the roman forum, rome, italy, early morning
Julius Caesar gave us leap years, though the concept was later tweaked.Matteo Colombo - Getty Images

It took a while, but the Gregorian calendar eventually became the universal standard—almost. Have you ever wondered why there is one date for Easter and another for Orthodox Easter? Many Orthodox Christian churches reject the Gregorian calendar and still use the Julian calendar, with a leap year every four years without exception, to determine religious holidays. Today, the two calendars are 13 days apart.

Why is it called called a leap year?

According to the Oxford Learner's Dictionary, the term "probably derives from the fact that feast days after February in such a year fell two days later than in the previous year, rather than one day later as in other years, and could be said to have 'leaped' a day." For instance, in 2023, St. Patrick's Day (March 17) fell on a Friday. The next year it would typically fall on a Saturday, but not in 2024 because it's a leap year. Instead St. Patrick's Day 2024 falls on a Sunday.

In which years does February have 29 days?

The years 2024, 2028, and 2032 are leap years and have 29 days in February. Through the end of 21st century, the list of leap years also includes 2036, 2040, 2044, 2048, 2052, 2056, 2060, 2064, 2068, 2072, 2076, 2080, 2084, 2088, 2092, and 2096.

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