Let’s put our thinking caps on. Are they secured? Not too tight. What do these famous people have in common? Dinah Shore, Tony Robbins, Henri Richard, and Gioachino Rossini are but four. Even the great and mighty Superman has this distinguishing feature. Ponder this for another moment or two. No, they are not all faster than a speeding bullet, do not all compose great music, shoot a hockey puck, or motivate others by spoken or lyrical word.
Does anyone have a guess? Time is up. They are all leaping babies. In other words, each one has a date of birth of February 29. Leap Year Day, always on 29th February, occurs every four years. However, leap day babies, also called leaplings, leapers, or leapsters, still get to celebrate birthdays in common years as well. Some celebrate on the 28th of February, and some prefer the 1st of March.
Amazingly, the rarest birthday is actually leap day, or February 29. Its lack of commonality is because the day occurs once every four years. Therefore, it’s obvious that it would yield the least number of birthdays. Overall, the chance of any baby being born on Leap Day is quite slim, about 1 in 1,461, as February 29 only comes around once in 1,461 days.
When our birthday falls on February 29, get ready to celebrate. When it is a leap year, the occurrence becomes more special. Hey, the last time was all those days ago, heightening the thrill of the day. While there are tonnes of jokes about the person barely ageing or being much younger due to birthdays happening once every four years, or 1,461 days, the person ages within regular parameters. Remember, you share a birthday with two fictional superheroes, Shazam and Superman.
People will make superstitions about almost everything, and leap years are not exempt. One of these traditions or superstitions, is that women are supposed to propose marriage to men. This tradition supposedly goes back to the 5th century. It was vaguely portrayed in the 2010 romantic comedy “Leap Year” with Amy Adams.
Furthermore, many countries have laws defining when an individual born on February 29 comes of age in legal terms. For instance, in New Zealand and Taiwan, the official birthday falls on February 28 in regular years. Meanwhile, in other countries like the UK and Hong Kong, leap-year babies have to wait until the 1st of March.
History reports that the former Tasmanian Premier, Sir James Milne Wilson, 1869–1872, had a unique existence. This British ruler had the distinction of being born on 29 February 1812, and died on 29 February 1880. One might call him a Gold Star Leapling.
According to John Reitz, a law professor at the University of Iowa, the law doesn’t care about 29 February. His legal thinking is that 29th February is the day after February 28, so a person born on 29th February is legally considered one year older than the day after 28 February. In non-leap years, this day is 1st March. So the first day one can legally drive, vote, join the armed forces, buy alcohol, or start collecting Social Security is definitely 1st March.
Leap years keep our calendars on track. In 45 BC, Julius Caesar was attempting to develop a 365-day calendar. However, he confronted a slight dilemma. Earth’s orbit around the sun takes 365 days and six hours, which would make the calendar year slightly shorter than the solar year. By not taking this into account, it would throw off the passage of time and changing seasons. Trying to fix this, Caesar consulted an astronomer, and it was decided to add an extra day every four years. After a few centuries, it became apparent that something was off.
Since the calculations were slightly incorrect, adjustments were needed. By the 16th century, scholars realised that the calculations were close, but still, the solar year was overestimated by 11 minutes. This was most problematic for the Catholic Church, as the date of Easter had slowly moved from its traditional spot. Pope Gregory XIII commissioned a new calendar. The introduction of the new and improved Gregorian calendar marked the last alteration to the Western calendar as we know it in the 2020s. Thankfully, the Gregorian calendar is only off by one day every 3,030 years, so humankind has some time before this becomes an issue.
Howard Diamond is a certified peer specialist from Long Island, New York.