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Happy birthday, leap day babies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 22, 2012 - When the Beacon asked questions about leap year, using the Public Insight Network, the responses arrived from sources in more than 20 states, two Canadian provinces, and Australia and Egypt. The insights they shared ranged from personal to emotional to humorous.

Feb. 29 is leap day, the day that's added once every four years to keep the calendar in alignment with the Earth's revolutions around the sun. It takes the Earth approximately 365.242199 days to circle once around the sun. Because the Gregorian calendar has 365 days in a year, February gets an extra day every four years. Without the added day, we would lose almost six hours off the calendar every year. After 100 years, the calendar would be out of sync with the seasons by approximately 24 days.

As a sign of pride in their Feb. 29 birth date, several individuals have gone so far as to incorporate the date as an email address, including dleapbaby12, leapday1976 and sheleaper229.

In honor of the day, we selected responses from 29 sources, who shared what leap year means to them. (Some responses have been edited for length or clarity.)

Amy Anderson, Redmond, Wash.:

"It was a bit confusing as a kid, but I love being unique now. I celebrate every year but try to go all out on actual leap years. On off years, we always split my gifts, half on Feb. 28 and half on March 1. It seems like people can't remember how often leap years occur. I remind people that it falls in line with U.S. presidential election years and the summer Olympics."

Sarah Ashman, Manlius, N.Y.:

"To a lot of people, my birthday actually is something that really defines me. It's not something I've ever actively encouraged, but people do always remember me as 'that girl who has the leap-year birthday.' It's funny, because I'm actually quite sick of the jokes and the attention, but everyone else absolutely loves it."

Stephen Beaty, Adelaide, South Australia:

"A real birthday. Recognition that my birth date is special and an opportunity to party hard."

Amanda Carroll, Columbia, Tenn.

"My daughter, Adilene Corine Carroll, was born on leap day 2008. Leap day to me is the most special and happiest day of my life (because) my little leapling was born."

Jenny Cisneros, Long Beach, Calif.:

"I feel a little special that my birthday comes every four years, but I get teased by my friends when it's not leap year because they will say 'no birthday for you, there's no 29 this year.' So far I haven't really had a chance to do anything big for my leap year birthday (this year), but I'm hoping this year my friends get the hint and throw me an awesome party."

Friederike Cook, Eagle River, Alaska:

"I was the second baby born in Anchorage on that day in 1964. Somehow, it makes it more special. There are problems with it, though. In Alaska your driver's license is good for five years and expires on your birthday. I don't have a birthday on those years. It confuses the DMV computer and the folks manning the computers."

Casey Croy, St. Louis:

Croy was not born on Feb. 29, but she wrote, "How I long for the days of cartoonist Al Capp's 'Sadie Hawkins Day' in leap years.... Schools sometimes hosted Sadie Hawkins Day dances — extra special because the girls invited the boys, in a shocking display of disdain for social convention." [Editor's note: Sadie Hawkins Day is actually recognized on Nov. 15, the date in 1937, when cartoonist Al Capp introduced the character in his 'Li'l Abner' comic strip. The tradition of women proposing marriage to men on Feb. 29 comes from an Irish tradition called St. Bridget's complaint.]

Raenell Dawn, Keizer, Ore.:

Dawn is a co-founder of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, which she says has about 10,000 members worldwide. As someone born on Feb. 29, Dawn will be 13 (really 52) on leap day this year. "It is probably the most important day on the calendar," she wrote. "It's the day that keeps our years in line with the seasons so that Christmas doesn't end up in the summertime — for us in the northern Hemisphere anyway. It's not just our birthday, it's your extra day, too."

Debbie Faile, Cornelius, N.C.:

"We are unique people — us leap babies. There are few of us. But it's odd, I have had friends in my life who are born on the same day. It's like we know how to seek them out or something. Some the same age; one is older ... It makes for a great topic of discussion or can stop a conversation dead in it tracks."

Hanna Feldman, Los Angeles:

"I love feeling unique because I was born on such a rare birthday. And the bafflement of people when I tell them is an added bonus."

Toby Feldman, Fair Lawn, N.J.:

"Being a leap-year baby has always meant several things. The most important is the ability never to grow old. As I prepare to celebrate my 12th birthday (turning 48), I love the fact that my 14-year-old daughter has announced that she will always be older than me.... When I applied for my first job after graduating from college, I received a call from the human resources department of that company asking for an alternate birth date because their system did not recognize a Feb. 29 birth date."

Mackenzie Francisco, Holland, Ohio:

"I was born on Feb. 29, 1996, and it has always been a special birthday to have. When it's actually leap year, my birthday is like a big holiday and I have a lot more fun celebrating it. It's also kind of funny to think that I'm 3 years old at 15. I'm actually pretty short, but when anyone comments on that I just say that I'm actually a very tall 3 year old. I also think that being a 4-year-old driver is going to be a lot of fun to talk about."

Erin Gabrysz, Newcastle, Ontario:

"I love being born on a leap day. This year will be my first real birthday with my husband. He is looking forward to it because instead of choosing either the 28th or the 1st to celebrate, I decided it should be extra special so I celebrate on both days. He says I am milking it, but I think I deserve it for being born on such a special day."

Tiffanee Griffiths, Kamloops, British Columbia:

"I finally get a friggen birthday. So I'm planning on being as obnoxious as possible."

Michelle Hannemann, Cocoa, Fla.:

"I do see some institutions that offer scholarships to leap-year babies. I think the rarity of leap-year babies goes unnoticed too often and wish more people recognized us."

Hope Hughes, Norwalk, Iowa:

"People have one of two reactions when I tell them I'm a leap-day baby; they either think it's awesome and ask a hundred questions about my birthday, or they say they feel sorry for me."

Melissa Klein, Des Plaines, Ill.:

"When I was younger, it aggravated me that I had to wait until March 1 to celebrate, but that was mom's rule since she wasn't in labor on the 28th. Now that I'm older, it's much more fun to say I'm going to be 11 than 44. When I was a kid, other kids just thought (a leap year birthday) was weird."

Melinda Lowery, Baton Rough, La.:

"My son Noah will turn 8 (2) on leap day. Ever since Noah's first leap-day birthday, he has known he was born on a special day that is not on the calendar. He is a quirky child with great sense of humor and photographic memory, who has taken an interest in things such as snakes and presidents, and so he considers his birthday just another thing that makes him special."

Jane Maloney, Kirksville, Mo.:

"I was born Feb. 29, 1964. When I was younger, I felt cheated because I didn't have a birthday every year like everyone else, but as I got older, people seemed to think I was pretty special. I'm married, and my daughter tells everyone that she's older than her mother. My husband lets people think he's a 'cradle robber' because they go by my leap year age, and not my REAL age. On my 40th birthday, my husband thought he'd be funny, and got me a birthday cake decorated for a 10-year-old."

Ashley McDaniels, Bradenton, Fla.:

"I enjoy being born on leap day. I also think it's neat that I can be two ages."

Joshua Quintana, Buffalo, N.Y.:

"Nataliah MarieRose Quintana is my daughter. She will be 4 on Feb. 29, 2012. It's just another way to prove how special and unique Nataliah is to me and to this world. I believe her being born on the leap day is so incredible and something divine between that person and God."

Sherri Riddle, Bridgeton, N.J.:

"Being born on leap day holds a special connection to my father, who passed away when I was a teenager. When I was born on Feb 29, 1968, my Dad insisted on naming me Sherri after the song by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, 'Sherry Baby.' When I was in my early 20s, I decided to go the music store to buy the album that 'Sherry Baby' was on. When I found it on the group's greatest hits, I saw the name 'Sherry' with 2:29 next to it. My first thought was 'How did they know?' Then I realized that it was the length of the song, which was also my birthday. I bought the album right away and felt such a soothing feeling that makes me feel more closely connected to my Dad's memory."

Shaun Rudy, Chicago:

"The one year I actually had my birthday in college, I will never forget. I was the vice president of my fraternity and had to be involved in all of the rituals and ceremonies with our pledges. About a month before leap day, the leadership team picked our initiation day — Feb. 29. I was devastated ...

"After we finished up our initiation ceremony in the wee hours of the morning, there was just 30 minutes left until our campus bar scene closed. Somewhat defeated, I marched up to my room and pondered just going to sleep on my only night in college that could have been my blowout celebration. Before rounding the hallway down to my room, nearly all of my fraternity brothers were there to surprise me, and eager to take me out for the last remaining minutes on my birthday.... I don't think I was bought more shots in a span of 20 minutes than that night."

Jennifer Salver, Mission Viejo, Calif.:

Salver, who was born in 1976, recalls celebrating her 21st birthday in Las Vegas. "It was the 28th so the waitress said I had to wait till the 29th. I told her there was no 29th this year. She talked to the manager and then I got my drink. I got a tattoo of a frog in honor of leapers everywhere. I wish there was a post office stamp to commemorate leap year."

Michael Sargent, Grain Valley, Mo.:

Being born on Feb. 29, 1964, "has kept me young at heart and young looking as well. I've lived it to the letter. I'm 12 and love it."

Janet Smallman, Belleville, Ontario:

"The excitement and anticipation leading up to Feb. 29 is similar to a child waiting for Santa Claus to arrive at Christmas. In trying to explain how I feel about my birthday, I ask the other person how excited they get with the hype and anticipation for Christmas. Usually everyone is very excited. Then I say 'multiply that times four, and you get how excited I am for Feb. 29.'"

Cristina Spinei, Stamford, Conn.:

"It has an added special meaning for me as a musician and composer because I share the same birthday as Italian opera composer Gioachino Rossini. The first opera that I ever attended was Rossini's 'The Barber of Seville.' Although I was 8, I decided then that I wanted to become a composer and write my own dramatic works. I went on to receive both my bachelor's and master's degrees from Juilliard in composition. Rossini still remains one of my favorite composers. My music has been praised for many of the same qualities as Rossini's, and I like to attribute the similar aesthetics to our shared leap-day birthday."

Tina Taylor, Fairfield, Calif.:

"The great thing about my birthday is when it finally comes around, everyone remembers. I used to hate it, but now it makes me feel unique and young. It's odd because Feb. 29 isn't an option on some menus with preset dates."

Connie Tull, Margate, Fla.:

"The fun part is that we do not physically and spiritually represent our age because our minds are set up to get older only every four years. I believe media should encourage businesses to honor leap-day babies on our day, like store discounts with proper I.D., restaurant free treats, movie theater discounts."

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.