What′s different about a leap year in Germany? | Lifestyle | DW | 26.02.2016
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What's different about a leap year in Germany?

Is 2016 a lucky year? That all depends on how superstitious you are. Leap years date back to the ancient Egyptians, but some superstitions and traditions still persist in Germany.

Don't forget: February has 29 days this year because 2016 is a leap year.

What's a leap year?

The calendar year typically includes 365 days, but a leap year has 366. The extra day is added to the end of February, the shortest month.

Years that are divisible by four or 400 qualify as leap years. Every 400 years, three leap days are removed by identifying those '00 years that are not divisible by 400 as non-leap years. 1700, 1800 and 1900 didn't make the cut. The next non-leap year is 2100.

But why?

Technically, the earth needs 365.24219 days to travel around the sun, so our Gregorian calendar isn't quite accurate. That's why the extra quarter-day is added every four years. However, the exceptions are made approximately every century to make up for the fact that even the leap year is a mathematical compromise.

Is this a modern invention?

Nope. Even the ancient Egyptians recognized the math problem and in the third century BC added extra days to their calendars every four years as well. The Roman calendar was similarly inaccurate and Julius Caesar ordered the introduction of a leap year in the first century BC. However, the Romans added February 24 - as a second February 24. That must have bordered on a real-life Groundhog Day.

Our tradition of inserting the extra day in February dates back to Caesar's influence.

In 1582, the Gregorian calendar was introduced, which is the one we follow today. Pope Gregory XII first removed 10 days from the year 1582 to make up for previous inaccuracies. He also introduced the rule of saving three leap days every 400 years.

What's a leap year called in German?

In German, the word for leap year is "Schaltjahr." "Schalt" sounds like it comes from the verb "schalten," which means to switch. Though the meaning - in the sense of switching the calendar forward by one day - seems logical, the term is more likely based on the Old German "scaltjahr," which simply meant an intercalary year, or a year with an extra day.

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