This year is a special year, one that comes around only once every four years: Leap Year. That means we get an extra day, Feb. 29; and while most of us have a long list of things we would love to do with an extra day—things that do not require the hustle and bustle of a work day—Leap Day falls on a Monday this year, meaning we wake up and head back to the grind…and it’s still February.
Of course, for some people, these special years mean they get a chance to celebrate their birthday on their actual birthday. Raenell Dawn, cofounder of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, has devoted her adult life to learning about Leap Day and spreading the word about the significance of the day.
“Feb. 29 is the most important day on the calendar and has an interesting history,” said Dawn, who was born on Feb. 29, 1960. “It’s the one day that keeps the calendar in order.”
Leap years have 366 days, not 365. The name “leap year” comes from the fact that while a fixed date in the Gregorian calendar normally advances one day of the week from one year to the next, the day of the week in a leap year will advance two days (from March onwards) due to the extra day added at the end of February (thus “leaping over” one of the days in the week).
“We want to clear up the misunderstanding of Leap Year and Leap Year Day,” said Dawn. “It’s been happening for thousands of years and will continue to happen every four years until an even more precise system is found.”
She is an advocate for making the day an official holiday and getting it printed on calendars.
“If we didn’t have an extra day every four years, our holidays would eventually end up in a different season. Most holy days are in specific seasons. Agriculture depends on seasons and we, especially, depend on that system,” Dawn said. “If we didn’t have a Leap Day we would eventually have to celebrate those holy days (holidays) in different seasons.”
Birthdays are particularly troublesome to people born on Feb. 29. Not only do they have to choose whether to celebrate on Feb. 28 or March 1 most of the time, many websites do not recognize the birthday.
“People born on Leap Year Day can encounter even more frustrating date related disrespect with banking and insurance forms and government documents that don’t accommodate Feb. 29 as a birth date,” said Dawn.
According to Dawn’s website www.leapyearday.com, quite a few famous people have been born on Feb. 29, with records dating back to 1468 with the birth of Pope Paul III. Other famous Leap Day babies include legendary saxophonist, conductor, songwriter and composer Jimmy Dorsey (brother of Tommy), born in 1904, actor Antonio Sabato, Jr., born in 1972 and rapper Ja Rule in 1976.
Dawn said her goal in the beginning was to find Leap Day babies so that they could share their stories with each other and to see if others could relate. They currently have more than 11,000 members from all over the world.
“As the birthday club grew we realized we had a new goal: to spread Leap Year Day awareness,” said Dawn. “Once people know what Leap Year Day is and why we have it, then they will realize why I want Leap Year Day in ink on the calendar. And that is also why we want the simplicity of this taught in school more than it is, so when these kids grow up, Leap Years won’t throw them off.”