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A Schaltjahr (leap year) is held every four years, except century years, unless they are divisible by 400. It dates back to Roman times, and was introduced by Julius Caesar as a solution to our 365-day long year being just about 6 hours too short to be perfectly aligned with the Earth’s orbit around the sun. But this day also has its peculiarities, of course! You are in the right place for that – here are three things to know about the German Schaltjahr.
Aberglaube (Superstition) is not hard to find in a year as unusual and “abnormal” as a Schaltjahr (leap year). Most people do not like to get married on February 29, and the same counts for having their birthday. Many pregnant women that have the choice, that is if they have to perform a C-section, prefer to do this on a day before or after the 29th of February. Of course, this might also have to do with their child only having their birthday every 4 years.
One old Bauernregel (Farmer’s rule) is “Schaltjahr ist Kaltjahr” (leap year is cold year). This means that if it is a Schaltjahr, it is going to be cold! This is of course important to know for the growth of crops. And it chimes in with the misfortune associated with a leap year: a cold year is bad for crops, and so that means a bad harvest!
A tradition in Germany is that teenage boys cut down a tree, most of the times a Birke (birch), decorate it with Luftschlangen (streamers) and set it up in front of the house of their loved one or their crush, to show them their love. Most of the time, this is anonymously. Such a tree is called a Liebesmaie. This tradition takes place during the time that Maibäume are set up.
The special thing is that the roles are reversed in Schaltjahren: during leap years, the girls have to cut a tree, decorate it and put it in front of the house of their crush!
Check out the videos below for a laugh! In the first video, people are interviewed whether they know what the Schaltjahr is. Some responses are rather astounding!
In this second piece from 1988, Viktor Giacobbo gives a “speech to the nation” on the Schalttag. It is typical German humor, comparable to the classic Loriot.
And finally, a little pun concerning the Schaltjahr:
Warum darf man in einem Schaltjahr nicht Automatik fahren?
Weil es ein Schaltjahr ist, da muss man schalten!
(Explanation: Automatik is driving without a stick, and schalten is the verb for changing gears (with a stick). And so in a Schaltjahr, you may not drive with Automatik!).
I hope you have a fun and lucky February 29th!