The leap year is upon us – the quadrennial event when the Gregorian calendar corrects a slight problem with its construction that, over time, would more or less derail it.
Because, despite what one was taught in elementary school, the earth does not quite go around the sun 365 times in a year. It goes around the sun 365 and one-quarter times over the course of the year. Because there is no reasonable way to build an extra quarter-day into the calendar, we instead built a slight time debt that every four years is neutralized with the addition of one extra day to the calendar to balance things out.
It’s a temporal reality that mostly has the effect of filling people with dread all over the world. In Italy, Russia and most of the Mediterranean, leap day is considered very bad luck, and the entire year that surrounds it is largely considered to be ill-fated. In Italy, there’s even a local idiom around it: “anno bisesto, anno funesto,” which roughly translates into “leap year, gloomy year.”
Russia lacks any clever sayings, but there is a widespread national belief that leap years are associated with bad weather in general – and an increased likelihood of being struck by lightning in particular. Both cultures agree that people should avoid any big life decisions, eschew large purchases and more or less stay indoors as much as possible in leap years.
In Taiwan, there is a similar belief that leap years are bad luck, but it is much less general than in other parts of the world. In that country, it is believed that one’s parents are at increased risk of death – but the solution isn’t to stay indoors and wait for the calendar to change. Instead, married women are to travel to their family home to bring their parents pig trotter noodles, which reportedly bring both good health and good luck.
And lest one think that all leap day traditions are dark, couples from all over the world will be traveling to Ireland this weekend to partake in an annual leap tradition: wedding proposals. And if you find yourself objecting that wedding proposals happen every day all over the world, that’s true – but it’s mostly men who do the proposing. In Ireland on leap day, women are explicitly the designated askers – and yes, it’s traditional for them to bring a ring.
And what about in the U.S.? What is our cultural tradition to commemorate an event that only happens every four years? Do we stay home to avoid the lightning or prepare for some inverted wedding proposals?
No, of course not. Who has that kind of time? We have free food to eat. A lot of it.
The Ocean of Freebies Part One: The Regular People Edition
Free cookies, free tacos, free pizza, free beer – go ahead, name a snack food. Now Google it. Chances are you’ll find a free version being offered up.
Today, in celebration of an extra day on the calendar, merchants nationwide have decided we have all earned a treat for dealing with an extra day – especially since that extra day turned out to be a Saturday, when everyone is free to shop anyway.
The true freebies are rare, at least for regular people. Del Taco is promoting its new shrimp taco and offering up a free one, Insomnia Cookie is offering a free cookie with any cookie purchase and Stella Artois is offering free beer – but only to those who remember to send in the rebate before March 16.
And Popeye’s is offering a free chicken sandwich – an impressive offer when one considers that as of mid-summer 2019, a Popeye’s chicken sandwich was the most coveted food item in the continental United States. But that order has to come via Postmates, must be part of a combo meal worth at least $15 and requires a promo code during the ordering process. It might be worth it – but some might consider it a lot of steps to go through to avoid paying $4 for a sandwich.
And for all the brands directly offering a freebie, there are quite a few more using the day to bring in customers via their loyalty programs and some sweeteners, as opposed to direct giveaways. Through its app, Dunkin is offering loyalty members four times the usual loyalty points for buying anything during leap day, as are Sheetz and Noodles & Company. Other brands are building their pricing around leap day and the number 29. That includes a $29 lobster dinner at Legal Sea Foods, a 29 percent discount at Jet’s Pizza and a $2.29 carryout order from Olive Garden.
Perhaps the winner of the out-of-the-box award for the semi-holiday is Quiznos, which isn’t so much giving anything away as holding a contest. Borrowing from the Irish tradition around unusual proposals, the sandwich shop is encouraging users to swap a sub sandwich from Quiznos for a ring during their proposal, snap a photo and send it in for a chance to have the QSR chain cater their wedding.
For truly, is there a surer sign of everlasting devotion than a hoagie? We think not.
And while the chance to have Quiznos cater one’s wedding is nearly the apotheosis when it comes to leap day freebies and giveaways offered to the masses, it pales in comparison to what is on offer to the real stars of the holiday….
The leap babies, aka “leaplings.”
The Ocean Of Freebies Part Two: Leaplings
Depending on one’s perspective, the people born on the 29th of February are either very lucky or very unlucky. Insofar as they only can legitimately celebrate their birthday every four years, it can be something of a bummer. Particularly for a child, especially if that child has an older sibling who will almost assuredly spend their entire childhood reminding them of the relative rarity of “real birthdays” in their life.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for watching everyone you know celebrate their 40th birthday right when you are technically celebrating your 10th.
However the leaplings look at it, what is inarguable is that they are the definite winners of leap day commerce.
Wake up hungry? Head to Denny’s, where the Grand Slam breakfast awaits you.
Lunchtime? Villa Italian will hand off a free large pizza, East Coast Wings and Grill will give away a whole free entree and Farmer Boys is offering a free cheeseburger.
Bored in San Antonio? Head over to the zoo, where leap babies get free admission.
Bored anywhere else? Make a video for Hotels.com explaining the lifelong struggle of being born a leapling. If you move them sufficiently with your plight, they will offer a $290 credit on a hotel stay. Lays is doing something similar – but are only offering a bag of chips in payment for a quadrennial birthday, so we’re not sure they are taking this seriously enough.
And if after all that you want dessert, free sundaes are available for leaplings at Main Event.
In a hospital giving birth to a leapling, and bummed out that you’re missing out on all of this? Krispy Kreme thought of you. According to their announcement earlier this week, the chain will send doughnuts to hospitals, health professionals and parents of leap year babies within 10 miles of participating shops. They simply have to tag @KrispyKreme with the hashtag #KrispyKremeSpecialDelivery and the chain will contact them.
And while we won’t claim that the U.S. has the best leap day traditions on Earth – admittedly, the proposal thing in Ireland is tough to compete with – we will say that America is the only nation where it might someday be possible to celebrate one leap day by getting engaged with a sandwich, and the following one by getting a special box of donuts delivered to the nursery of your firstborn.
We’re going to say it: Best leap year for traditional commerce ever.