Leap day is that time when a single day is added to the Gregorian Calendar every four years.
The reason for this, of course, is that whereas most modern calendar years have 365 days, a complete revolution of the Earth around the Sun (one solar year) takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours. An extra 24 hours thus accumulates every four years, requiring that an extra calendar day be added to align the calendar with the Sun’s apparent position. Without the added day, in future years the seasons would occur later in the calendar, eventually leading to confusion about when to undertake activities dependent on weather, hours of daylight, etc.
However, most of us in America associate leap year with presidential elections. Even though someone appears to be running for president all the time, it would be far worse if we hadn’t pegged the election cycle to leap years. In this, we can consider ourselves lucky.
But what of those persons who have had the unlucky accident of birth on February 29? Such a person may be called a “leapling” or a “leap-year baby.” I would imagine this presents them with a dilemma. In non-leap years, some leaplings celebrate their birthdays on either February 28 or March 1, while others only observe birthdays on their authentic intercalary dates of February 29.
There are many instances in children’s literature where a person’s claim to be only a quarter of their actual age turns out to be based on counting their leap-year birthdays.
A similar device is used in the plot of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. As a child, the character Frederic was apprenticed to a band of pirates until his 21st birthday. Having passed his 21st year, he leaves the pirate band and falls in love. However, since he was born on February 29, his 21st birthday will not arrive until he is eighty-four, so he must leave his fiancée and return to the pirates.
This plot point was also used in a Sherlock Holmes story, where a friend of Dr. Watson’s is a Baronet who is due to receive his inheritance on the New Year’s Day of the year where his twenty-first birthday will be celebrated, only for the law to deprive him of the money as he was born on February 29; with the 84-year-old Baronet distraught at the news that 1900 is not a leap year, Holmes helps the Baronet fake his death long enough for his grandson—who is the appropriate age to receive the inheritance—to establish his claim and receive the money himself.
I just read a story by a 28-year-old woman who says this year marks her seventh real birthday because she was born on February 29th—a leap day. She says that the most popular topic of conversation among leaplings is the bureaucratic problems they all inevitably face.
This red-tape nightmare can take many forms. Sometimes it’s as small as not being able to select one’s birth date from a drop-down menu online—or those several years when Facebook didn’t acknowledge they had a birthday. Often it’s more substantial, like dealing with inaccurate legal documents. All modern leap babies have to navigate these snafus for two milestones: one’s 18th and 21st birthdays. US states have historically struggled to figure out a workable solution.
“When I was younger, my driver’s license in Florida listed my real birthday, but it also read ‘under 21 until 2/29/2009,’ a date that didn’t actually exist,” she says. “As for my 18th, well, it was up to individual businesses to determine whether they considered me legal on February 28 or March 1. Results varied.”
Raenell Dawn, co-founder (with Peter Brouwer) of the online “Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies,” says this is all too common, and there’s no standard for how February 29 birthdays are handled. It differs from state to state, and case to case. “There’s one leapling I talked to whose birthday certificate says February 28 and her license says March 1,” Dawn said. “February 29 isn’t listed on either document.”
It is estimated that there are about 200,000 leaplings in the United States and just under 5 million worldwide—a small enough group to maintain a feeling of exclusivity, but large enough to spark a healthy dialogue. “Once we get to talking, it’s evident that many of our individual struggles are really quite universal. One of the topics frequently discussed is which day leap babies should use to celebrate their birthday on off-years,” says Dawn.
Some opt for February 28, saying the last day of February is most accurate, while others insist March 1 is more correct because they were born the day following February 28. Then there’s the camp that believes time of day is the determining factor—if you were born in the morning, the 28th is yours, but if you were delivered past noon, it’s the 1st. It can all get rather heated.
There aren’t many advantages to celebrating your real birthday once every fours years, but the free stuff is starting to add up.
Pizza Hut is giving away free one-topping Personal Pan Pizzas today to carryout customers with IDs showing they were born on Leap Day. “Pizza Hut has been the site of many, many birthday parties through the years, and since Leaplings only get to celebrate their true birthdays every four years, we wanted to make their day special and help them honor their birthdays in a big way,” says Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr.
Pizza Hut isn’t the only company dishing out freebies on Leap Day. Hard Rock Cafe restaurants will also give customers with a Leap Day birthday a free entree from a special menu.
Not a leapling but still want free stuff or discounts? No problem. Plenty of restaurants and brands are offering special deals for the extra day:
- Restaurant chain Dog Haus is offering a free upgrade from a single to a double burger
- Eatery Legal Sea Foods will sell two one-pound lobsters with two sides for $29 today
- JetBlue is offering $29 one-way fares to 31 cities for travel today (but you’ve probably already missed the deadline)
- Northeastern chain Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant is offering fried ice cream and a Leap Year Margarita for $2.29
- Athletic clothier Footlocker is offering 15% off purchases of $70 or more on Leap Day
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