Once every four years, an extra day is tacked on to the calendar to account for the Earth’s extra quarter-rotation around the sun every year. It means we get an extra day at the end of February each leap year, often one involving lots of weird “seasonal” discounts, like free Krispy Kreme doughnuts or $290 off a booking on hotels.com. (Alas, most are only in the U.S., and not in Canada.)
But what does it mean for people born on Feb. 29, a day that occurs only once every four years? It means that their birthday is really special — but it can sometimes come with some frustrations, too.
In 2012, when Claudia Francisco of Port Coquitlam, B.C., went into labour on the night of Feb. 28, she was hoping her baby would be born before midnight. “I didn’t want a leap year baby,” she told HuffPost Canada. “I thought it would be hard or complicated.”
She remembers that for the doctors, the possibility of something rare happening was more fun than it was for her.
“The doctor looked at me with joy and said, ‘How exciting, we are going to have a leap year baby here,’” Francisco recalled. “I remember looking at the clock and I said out loud, ‘No!’”
Her son, Adriano, was born just before 1 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 29. This year, he’s turning eight — or, depending on how you look at it, two — and both he and his mom are thrilled about his unusual birth date.
“He actually finds it quite special,” Francisco said. “He knows that we celebrate him yearly, but he now understands how special the actual leap year birthday day is.”
One in 1,461 chance
People born on Leap Day form a pretty small society. During the most recent leap year, in 2016, there were five million people in the world who had been born on Feb. 29 — that’s less than one per cent of the world’s population.
To put it another way: The chance of being a Leap Day baby is one in 1,461.
That relatively small number means that Leap Day kids — known as “leaplings” — share a special bond, Francisco said.
The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies has been going strong for decades, and has more than 11,000 members, including Francisco. And she and Adriano have seen that bond up close.
Last Leap Day, in 2016, their family met a fellow leapling who was turning 40 (or 10). The man had never met anyone else with his birthday before, and the two will regularly email each other birthday wishes to this day. (This will be the first year they can send messages on the actual day of their birthday.)
Watch: Five things you probably didn’t know about leap years. Story continues after video.
‘The big question’
If you ask a Leap Day baby whether they celebrate before or after the day itself on the off years, don’t be offended if they roll their eyes — they get that question all the time, Francisco said.
There’s a pretty big divide in the leapling community, which divides itself existentially between “28thers” and “1sters,” a leapling named Phil Haney told Vox.
Haney told the outlet he’s a 1ster. “My mother always told me that I was born ‘the day after the 28th,’” he said. “I wasn’t here on the 28th, so it makes more sense to celebrate on March 1.”
Adriano is a 28ther. Sometimes people will argue that he should celebrate later, insisting that the day after Feb. 28 is March 1. “He’ll say, ’No, I was born in February,’” Francisco explained.
A surprising number of people don’t know about leap years
It’s common for Adriano to meet people who think he’s joking or making things up when he says his birthday is on Feb. 29. “Surprisingly enough, many people don’t understand the leap year,” Francisco said.
And a lot of documents and systems aren’t made to accommodate leaplings. Sometimes bouncers or airport officials think documents listing a birthdate as “Feb. 29” are fake, as leapling Haney recounted to Vox.
It can make online registrations hard, if people have to choose from a dropdown menu that includes only 28 days in February. A recent post on a leapling Facebook group bemoaned the fact that many people had trouble registering their real birthdays on the platform.
Tips for celebrating a Leap Day birthday
Despite the frustrations, a Feb. 29 birthday can be a lot of fun.
- Make sure you impart just how special the birthday is. So few people have that birthday, which could make someone feel like an outsider — but it’s also an opportunity for them to feel special. They’re part of an elite club.
- Celebrate every year, but make leap year celebrations even bigger. Francisco’s family celebrates Adriano’s birthday every year, but on leap years they go the extra mile so he really feels loved. Their family opts for vacations, but there are lots of ways to celebrate even if that’s not feasible — decorate the house, or make their favourite meal, or come up with some other tradition that only takes place on a leap year.
- Seek out free food. A lot of the big Feb. 29 deals are specifically aimed at people born on Leap Day, or their parents. Score.
- Celebrate other things happening during the leap year. Leap years sync up with the Olympics (fun!) and the U.S. presidential elections (grim). If either of those are interesting to kids, that can be a fun added bonus for a leap year baby.
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