For 187,000 Americans, and approximately 4 million people worldwide, 2016 is no ordinary year. Feb. 29 offers the first chance in four years to celebrate their birthday—on the actual day they were born.
The odds of being a leapling, the official term for those born on Feb. 29, are pretty slim—just one in 1,461. The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies was launched in 1997 as an online birthday club for leaplings. Now the society is 10,000 strong, providing a community for those with such a unique birthday, allowing members to connect. There’s even a small city in Texas, Anthony, located North of El Paso, known as the Leap Capital of the World. Each leap since since 1988, it hosts a birthday festival where leaplings from around the world gather.
Kevin Kennelly, a Glenside resident, is one such leapling, born in 1956, though he hasn’t made the trip to Texas. The nearly 60 year-old has only been able to celebrate just 15 birthdays—including this year’s—on the day of his birth. Age is a tricky number for leaplings, some of whom like to give their age by the number of leap years they’ve lived through, a quarter of the actual years they’ve lived. “I don’t really dread the fact that I’m hitting the big 60th birthday this year, but I don’t necessarily subscribe that I’m turning 15, either,” Kennelly says.
A history buff, Kennelly is most intrigued by the derivation of Leap Year. Julius Caesar is known as the father of this calendar marvel, having made the decision to add one day every four years to account for the orbit of the sun being closer to 365.25 days than 365.
A solar year is approximately 11 minutes short of 365.25 days, which meant that the calendar was almost 10 days off track by the time Pope Gregory took it over in 1582. To fix the problem, Pope Gregory issued a Papal Decree to restore the vernal equinox from March 11 to March 21, effectively skipping 2 weeks that year. “That is power,” Kennelly says with a laugh.
Birthdays, too, are tricky. He, like other Leap Day babies, have the unusual option of choosing when to celebrate. Kennelly used to consider himself a “Strict Februarian,” but now says, “I’ll celebrate it whenever it’s convenient.”
Denise Delpizzo-Braud, of Newtown Square, echoed this February enthusiasm. “I hate when people don’t celebrate in February, because I wasn’t born in March,” Delpizzo-Braud says. “By March, it’s all over. If you wish me a happy birthday on March 1, you missed it.”
Birthdays came to be a time of internal struggle, a love-hate relationship borne of her birthday. “When I was in school, I hated it,” she says. “It was the most horrible thing because nobody ever sang to me.” Since then, Delpizzo-Braud has enjoyed the perks of her unique status as a leapling, including a free dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse one year and an invitation to sit in the audience of a Martha Stewart show.
Katie Busch of Chester County had a similar struggle growing up, having been born on Leap Day in 1980. For her, it meant having less of a celebration on non-leap years. “My grandparents were sticklers,” Busch says. “They would only celebrate my birthday every four years. I would only get a card when it was my actual birthday.” Busch says her parents and friends made up for this by celebrating her birthday most years on Feb. 28. As for her age, just nine in leap years, she jokes, “My son finds it funny. He’s like, ‘Mom, you’re so young.’ I always say that, I’m forever young.”
Despite the odds, both Delpizzo-Braud and Kennelly have run into their fair share of fellow leaplings. “We’re always both ticked, because it’s so unusual,” says Delpizzo-Braud. At a previous job, Kennelly’s manager, he discovered, was also born on leap day. A year or two into the job, a new hire in the office next to Kennelly’s turned out to also be a leapling. “I don’t even know how to calculate those odds. They’re astronomical.”