Fifteen Going on Four

For Leap Year Babies, the Most Special Day of the Year Isn’t on the Calendar

Lincoln High School sophomore Marisa Thomas will be celebrating her fourth birthday this year.
No, she’s not a child prodigy. Marisa is actually turning 16 in 2012, but her birthday, like more than 200,000 other Americans, comes once every four years on Feb. 29.

“My little brother picks on me, saying he’s older than me — even though I am almost 4 years older than him,” she says. “I feel more special because not many people have the same birthday, and when I meet new people they think it’s cool.”

The Earth’s trip around the sun takes exactly 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. Adding Feb. 29 every four years keeps the calendar days and months in their proper season.

Ancient Egyptians were the first to figure out the Earth’s rotation around the sun, and a quadrennial calendar day has existed since the time of Julius Caesar. Today’s Gregorian calendar came into existence in 1582, as an effort by Pope Gregory XIII to maintain the Easter season.

“It’s an honor to be born on the day that makes the seasons come every year,” says Peter Brouwer, a co-founder of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies’ website. “Every year we’d lose a quarter of a day if it wasn’t for the leap year day every four years.”
An old Irish tradition from 1288 allowed women to propose to men during a leap year.

“Leap Year Balls used to be all the rage,” says Raenell Dawn, another co-founder of the Honor Society, which has more than 10,000 Leap Day honorees on its website. “They provided a safe, romantic setting for a woman to propose to her man, if that indeed was her intention.”

In some places, the tradition was only allowed on the Leap Day, also known as Bachelors’ Day. If the man refused the proposal, he paid a penalty in cash or gift.

Everyone doesn’t celebrate Columbus or Valentine’s Day, but they are recognized on calendars. Leap Day, a vital day in everyone’s life, isn’t.

“On Feb. 2, you’ll find the words Groundhog Day; the 14, Valentines Day; the 29, when it’s there of course, nothing — blank,” Dawn says. “And, it’s the day that makes sure all those holidays land in the same season every year. It’s the day that celebrates the calendar’s accuracy.”

Filling out forms on the Internet and getting a drivers license can be problematic with a birthday that’s not annual.

“She has discovered that sometimes that date is not even an option when filling out forms and such — slightly frustrating, but creates an awareness,” says Marisa’s mother, Shannon Thomas. On non-leap years, Marisa Thomas celebrates her birthday on Feb. 28.

Brouwer is celebrating his 14th leap year birthday on the beach in Clearwater this year.

“I like to travel,” Brouwer says. “Last leap year, I was in San Francisco, and the year before that I was in China.”

Leap Day Babies throw extravagant parties in Spain, Australia and Texas, and they even have a capital, Anthony, N.M./Texas, where they throw a four-day Leap Year Festival.

“Youthfulness — that’s a theme because we don’t have as many birthdays; we don’t feel that we’re getting as old as everybody else. It makes us feel special,” Brouwer says.

Shannon Thomas concurs. “I think being a Leap Year baby has only helped (Marisa) embrace her individuality and uniqueness among her friends,” she says.

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