In a post-divorce daze, you may have looked back and thought, "It would've worked out, it was just the timing that was all wrong." Were you and your ex married during a leap year? You may have been onto something.
Greek and Ukrainian folklore suggests that couples that marry during a leap year have bad luck.
Leap years were invented by Julius Caesar in the first century BC in order to sync the calendar with the seasons. Pope Gregory XIII later perfected the system in 1582, forming the Gregorian calendar used today. For the Greek and Romans, the revised calendar was accompanied by a brand new set of superstitions, Neni Panourgia, an associate professor at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University, told The Huffington Post.
"Both had superstitions regarding starting anything new on a leap year. It was not only getting married, but baptizing a child, entering into any sort of contractual relationship, buying or selling, starting a journey or even a new job," said Panourgia, whose 1995 book, "Fragments of Death, Fables of Identity: An Athenian Anthropography," details Greek leap year superstitions.
The only aspect of the Greek superstition that still remains today, said Panourgia, is the belief that leap year marriages and engagements are trouble that can only end in two types of personal catastrophes: "The implication being either a divorce or one of the spouse's death."
But does the superstition hold any weight for modern Greeks?
Panourgia acknowledges informal, non-scientific newspaper polls that suggest continuing belief, but in the absence of scientific studies, she remains skeptical.
"People will agree with a lot of things they recognize as being part of folklore, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that if push comes to shove -- if decisions on marriage need to be taken -- that they won't be taken by couples."
Still, when a divorce does occur, the leap year makes for a good culprit: "People might actually say something has gone wrong or might go wrong precisely because it’s a leap year," Panourgia said.
Leap Day is considered equally unlucky for marriage in Ukraine, where every day of the year has an assigned saint. Feb. 29 happens to boast a particularly bad saint named Cassian, said Natalie Kononenko, a professor and Kule Chair of Ukrainian Ethnography at the University of Alberta.
According to Kononenko, legend has it that Cassian refused to help a peasant whose cart was stuck in the mud, and St. Nicholas came to his aid instead, prompting God to grant St. Nicholas two saint's days per year, while limiting Cassian to a measly one every four years. Since then, a vengeful Cassian has brought sickness to people and cattle with a single gaze, the professor explained in an e-mail to The Huffington Post. It's little surprise, then, that when Feb. 29 rolls around, Ukrainians are urged to stay indoors, keep animals inside and ... refrain from marrying?
As Kononenko said, "No one in his or her right mind would get married on February 29 considering [the belief]."
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