27 February, 2016
Tammy Radencic was born in 1972. She will be celebrating her 11th birthday on February 29.
"Hi, I'm Tammy Radencic. And I'm a Leap Year baby."
Leap Year happens only once every four years, on February 29. Babies born on February 29 have to wait four years before they see their next birthday on the calendar.
About 200,000 people in the U.S. celebrate a birthday on February 29. Around the world, there are about 5 million, says Reuters.
Radencic is one of them. She lives in South Carolina.
Radencic is not yet 50, but she has passed some other milestone birthdays, like 16, 21 and 30. Some birthdays come and go without much fanfare. But in a Leap Year, she says, the birthday is extra special.
"For the Leap Year babies, when you actually know that day is coming, you're going to wake up and say ‘Oh, today is actually my birthday.' I'll tell you, it is a very special feeling. Unfortunately this year the 29th is on a Monday. I have dentist appointment, I have calls with clients, so unfortunately I'm not going to have anything that's really celebratory on the fact that I do have an actual birth date this year. But it still will be very special to wake up and know, you know, that today is actually my birthday."
The reason these people only get to celebrate the exact anniversary of their birth every four years has to do with the difference between the calendar year and the solar year.
It takes the Earth about 365.25 days to circle the sun. So how do you factor in the extra quarter of a day? You add in an extra day every four years to catch up. That is where February 29 comes in.
Sherri Riddle lives in New Jersey. She was born in 1968.
"OK, my name is Sherri Riddle and I'm a Leap Day baby. I'm turning 12."
Riddle says she did not understand that something was different about her birthday until somewhere between her fourth and eighth year. She did know one thing: she had a bigger party for her fourth birthday than any of the years before.
As an elementary school student, other kids teased her about not having a "real" birthday each year. That's one reason why her birthday was extra special every fourth year.
"They had a bigger party for me that year and I have pictures. And I remember that day. I remember things that happened that day. And I knew it was more special, but I didn't know why. And then for my eighth birthday, they had a bigger party again. Mostly, it's been a really good experience."
Some people born on February 29 say the quirky birth date is not always easy. Radencic says her father tried to bribe the doctor with $200 when she was born. He wanted her birth certificate to read February 28 instead of February 29.
And the unique birthday does cause some headaches when it comes to filling out forms on computers or applying for official documents.
Some computer programs that require dates are not set-up for an entry of February 29 as the birthday.
Radencic says for a while, her driver's license and birth certificate had different birth dates. She grew up in North Carolina, and that state did not let her put February 29 on her license. So whenever she had to travel to a place like Canada, where you did not need a passport, she would always get questioned at the border about the difference between the two documents.
"It's really been problematic for me. And I know that those things may seem minor, but it's things that nobody ever would understand. Or even think you'd have to go through without having that particular birth date. So it's yeah, not been fun."
Everyone knows what it is like to get birthday wishes from friends on Facebook. The social media site reminds people that it is your birthday each year, and you get a cascade of well-wishes. But what if your birthday is February 29?
Radencic says on the off years, she does not get many birthday greetings on Facebook, because the service does not send out a reminder. Only her true friends know it is her birthday.
Janet Murphy of California has a 21-year-old granddaughter. She likes to joke that she and her granddaughter will be the same age this year. Murphy was born 1932.
When Murphy turned 4, she lived in Ohio. The local newspaper had a big party for leap year babies, and she attended. "I wore a pretty blue dress that my great aunt made for me. I felt very special," Murphy says.
"My parents made me feel quite special every leap year. For many years my mother sent my picture to be published in the local newspaper. It turned out to be a page full of happy faces celebrating each leap year."
Murphy says she has enough good friends who help her celebrate her birthday on "the last day of February" every year. She plans to have two celebrations this year. One on Sunday, and one on Monday.
Since her name was sometimes in the newspaper as a Leap Year baby, a man who was on his way to serve in the Korean War found out about her in 1952. They became pen-pal friends. Then four years later, Murphy received a special surprise from the man – 12 red roses!
Heidi Herman lives in Arizona. She was born in 1968. She says she does not celebrate her birthday when it is not a leap year.
"So yeah, I'm very excited there is an actual day for it."
This year she will celebrate her birthday with a trip to the Grand Canyon.
She is even more excited that in 2020, February 29 is a Saturday. So she will have an even bigger party that year. On her second birthday, Herman says she understood her birthday was something special.
In the United States, when people turn 21-years-old, they like to have a big party. That is because a person is legally allowed to drink alcohol at 21. Their friends will take them out to a bar or restaurant to have a good time.
Herman remembers what happened in her 21st year.
"Every leap-ling would say their 21st birthday is difficult. I remember (be) cause mine, that I did go out to celebrate obviously, because being 21. But my birthday is the last day of February and I am adamant about that. If you insist on celebrating each year it's gotta be the February 28. I wasn't born in March. So I went out on February the 28th. Half the bouncers had a good time about it and they laughed and let me in. But a couple of them really gave me a hard time. And one of them said fine, if you want to go to the back door and try it there, good luck with that. Otherwise we can go ahead and call the cops. They get a little harsh on some of that."
February 29 is not just for birthdays.
Some people get married on February 29 or they get engaged on February 29.
There is a legend that if a woman asks a man to marry her on February 29, he cannot say no.
People have their first dates on February 29.
Important moments in history happen on February 29. Did you know Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for her performance in "Gone With the Wind" on February 29, 1940?
There are some small difficulties that come with being born on February 29. But for the most part, these women do not mind. After all, for people like Herman, it is the only birthday they know.
"I never really had a problem with it. I've always felt like my birthday is super special."
I'm Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
Do you know someone born on February 29? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
fanfare – n. a lot of talk or activity showing that people are excited about something
tease – v. to laugh at and criticize (someone) in a way that is either friendly and playful or cruel and unkind
quirky – adj. unusual especially in an interesting or appealing way
unique – adj. very special or unusual
cascade – n. a large number of things that happen quickly in a series
adamant – adj. not willing to change an opinion or decision : very determined
harsh – adj. unpleasant and difficult to accept or experience
legend – n. a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true