Leap Day Wants Respect – The New York Times

Leap Day Wants Respect – The New York Times

The strangest non-holiday of the year is upon us.

Leap day is a wrinkle in time that goes unmentioned on many wall and desk calendars. Those born on Feb. 29 may face problems when it comes to filling out forms or settling basic questions of identity.

“People didn’t believe me that I was born on a day that didn’t exist,” said Raenell Dawn, who was born Feb. 29, 1960, describing her school years.

In 1983, while working in retail, Ms. Dawn encountered a customer who was a fellow leap day baby. “I was so excited to meet him,” she said. Then came a moment of disappointment, when she learned that the man had no special feeling about his birthday.

“He didn’t seem to care one leaping bit!” Ms. Dawn said. “It made me realize — I’ve got to find people that are born on this birthday, that are happy about it, that get it.”

She started a club for “leapers” or “leaplings,” as she calls those born on Feb. 29. She recruited the first members via newspaper ads (it was the ’80s). Years later, she met Peter Brouwer, a leapling who had formed a similar club. They joined forces to create the Honor Society of Leap Day Babies.

Ms. Dawn, who lives in Oregon, said she would like to see leap year and leap day given the dignity of uppercase treatment. To support her case, she cites Groundhog Day, which is capitalized in dictionaries and news publications.

Ms. Dawn also tries to help self-hating leapers take pride in their special status. “They think it’s the stupidest day to be born,” she said. “I reply that Feb. 29 is the most important date on the calendar — it’s the date that keeps all the dates in line. Our birthdays represent balance and harmony.”

She said she has also written to calendar makers, asking them to print “Leap Day” in the box for Feb. 29. “I get no response,” Ms. Dawn said. “How much can it cost to write seven letters?”

Some cultures have treated the day as a 24-hour break from cultural norms. In an Irish folk tradition, women propose marriage to men on leap day. “Leap Year,” a 2010 romantic comedy starring Amy Adams, made use of this premise.

The former New York Times columnist Russell Baker objected to leap day’s place on the calendar. In a 1968 column, he wrote that it was “sheer masochism to take the perfectly good extra day that leap year gives us and use it to prolong February.” His solution? Move it to summer.

“July 32 is no more absurd than Feb. 29,” Mr. Baker wrote.

Chad Orzel, a professor of physics and astronomy at Union College and the author of “A Brief History of Timekeeping,” said the placement of the bonus day at the end of February is “just tradition.”

“The Romans stuck it there,” he said, referring to the calendar established more than 2,000 years ago under Julius Caesar.

Leap year arose from the fact that the earth takes a little more than 365 days to orbit the sun — 365 days, 6 hours and 9 minutes, to be more exact. Without the occasional extra day, a calendar would fall out of sync with the seasons.

The ancient Romans nearly had it right when they added a 366th day every four years. But they had miscalculated a year’s length by 11 minutes. Over the centuries, those 11 minutes can really add up.

The Gregorian calendar — issued in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and still in use today — finally solved the problem known as calendrical drift. It did so by “removing leap-year status from three of every four century years, except for those divisible by 400,” Mr. Orzel said.

In recent years, time-measurement whizzes have proposed alternative calendars, including one created by two faculty members at Johns Hopkins University, Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics, and Richard Henry, a professor of physics and astronomy. The Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar eliminates leap day and solves calendrical drift with the addition of a full week at the end of December every six years.

“The geek crowd, the Silicon Valley crowd, they go for this stuff,” Mr. Hanke said. But practically speaking, he added, there has been no interest in ditching the current format.

Leap day babies would probably not back the Hanke-Henry calendar, given its treatment of their birthday. But at least they have their own anthem, a song called “2/29” by the San Diego rock band Rookie Card.

Sample lines:

So you think it’s rough being born near Christmas?

Try coming out on a day that doesn’t exist

In three years out of four

I’ll have faith no more

Adam Gimbel, 52, a band member born in September, said he wrote the song as a result of a fleeting thought: “I wonder if people born on leap day have this sense that the world is frowning on them.”

His banger made its way to the leap day advocate Ms. Dawn, who shared it with her community. This year, Mr. Gimbel made a music video for “2/29,” featuring leap day babies singing the lyrics.

“What’s funny is how many letters I’ve gotten from people saying, ‘You really understand us,’” he said.

As for Ms. Dawn, she’ll be turning 64 on leap day — or, rather, sweet 16.

”Oh, man,” she said. “It’s like Christmas is coming.”