For Leap Year Babies Around the World, 2024 Is Party Time
From cruises to festivals, this year is abounding in celebrations for the community of “Leap Day Babies.”
Raenell Dawn suffers from what she’s coined EBS, or “Empty Box Syndrome”—that is, the pain of having a birthday you can’t mark on a calendar square. The chances that someone is born on February 29 is 1 in 1,461, and with that rare distinction can come feelings of isolation, as well as more quotidian struggles. But Dawn also sees her situation as providing balance and harmony. “It’s the date that keeps all the other dates in line with the seasons,” she says. “It’s because of my birthday that your birthday happens in the same season every year.”
It takes planet Earth just slightly more than 365 days to orbit the sun, and that extra 6 hours or so needs to be accounted for in the Gregorian calendar. A single leap day in February makes up for those missed quarter days of the last four years, allowing for equinoxes and solstices to stay aligned with the seasons. During non-leap years, Leap Day Babies like Dawn tend to celebrate their birthdays on either February 28 or March 1. “I do both,” she jokes. “Because I can.”
In 1988, Dawn set up a birthday club called “Leap Year Babies Limited, The Limited Edition to the Human Race.” She contacted as many radio stations as she could in her hometown of Los Angeles, sat down for a few interviews, and invited Leap Day Babies to come to her house for a communal birthday party. Four people showed up that year—a symbolic number, she noted—though the club would eventually grow to include more than 12,000 members in 126 countries.
There exists a kind of poetic camaraderie among the Leap Day Baby community. For one, they’ve developed their own patois. A leapling is a newborn Leap Day Baby; Leapest Regards, is like “Deepest Regards,” but deeper; Leapification is the process by which someone or something is made aware of the importance of Leap Day. But as is the case in any group, there is a hierarchy. Leap year babies—those who were born at any time during a historic leap year—are an entirely different category.
And then there’s a sense of shared suffering. “One of the members of the club says at midnight [on February 28] he jumps up, and when he lands, says that was his birthday, while he was up in the air,” Dawn says. “There are Leap Day Babies with horrifying stories about their parents saying things like, ‘If you don't clean your room, I’m taking your birthday off the calendar.’ And they show the kids the calendar next year saying, ‘Look, birthday’s gone.’” Some members have reported doctors illegally changing their birthdays to February 28 or March 1, to save them the inevitable hassle.
Dawn’s club, which is now labeled the “Honor Society of Leap Day Babies” and operates mostly on Facebook, tries to focus on the positive. It’s composed of members who are eager to plan meet-ups around the world. “Hi fellow Leap Year Day babies,” one post reads. “Our birthday is getting closer and I am looking for fellow leaplings to spend our special day with.” They were looking for someone near Hermiston, Oregon, though they would have also had their choice of events taking place in both Disneys, Vegas, and New York City (not to mention Australia, Europe, the UK, and Canada.)
But perhaps the most important meeting place for Leap Day babies around the world is Anthony, Texas. The little town, which sits on the border of Texas and New Mexico, is regarded as the “Leap Year Capital of the World” for no real reason, other than the fact that Anthony resident and a Leap Day Baby named Mary Ann Brown thought it was a good idea and asked.
In 1988, Brown and her neighbor, Birdie Lewis, also a Leap Day Baby by miraculous fate, approached the Chamber of Commerce with the idea of a leap year festival to give the town local recognition and drive revenue. Perhaps because it had not yet been claimed, the governors of both New Mexico and Texas thought, Why not? and gave the town its current title. Pete Domenici, senator of New Mexico at the time, entered the request into the Congressional Record of the United States, whereby Congress and the president joined in on the proclamation.
The historic Worldwide Leap Year Festival drew in visitors from around the world who came to take in parades, birthday dinners, and even hot air balloon rides. Rockstar Graham Nash paid the town a visit in 2000, with his Leap Day Baby wife, Susan, and performed a concert for all attendees. For reasons that are unclear but some say involved funding issues, the town stopped throwing the festival in 2016. But this year, under the guidance of Anthony’s mayor—aptly named Anthony Turner—it’s getting resurrected.
“There’s always different ideas as to why one particular thing didn’t continue,” says Turner. “But as for myself, I believe it’s a good thing to bring the festival back so the citizens of Anthony have something to look forward to and to be proud of—not just the simple fact that we are the gateway to Texas, but that wonderful aspect that we are Leap Year Capital.”
This year’s Leap Year Festival will commence with a complimentary Rollin’ Smoke BBQ dinner for Leap Day babies on the big day, February 29th. The event will then open up to the public, with performances by Sonora Skandalo and Sonora Dinamita, a bit of Lucha Libre wrestling, carnival games, and food and craft vendors all throughout the weekend. Mayor Turner hopes the festival will bring in some foreign visitors, too. “I know in the past there has been a large number of international individuals, particularly England and the likes of the area,” he says.
Meanwhile, for those who’d rather party out on the high seas, there’s the Leap Day Birthday Bash, onboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas to CocoCay and Nassau, Bahamas (Feb 26 to March 1). This will be Karen Tinsley-Sroka’s second go at organizing the epic meet-up. “I always wanted to meet others who share my birthday, but the means to do so just didn't exist,” she said. “I had heard that the Anthony festival was not going to happen in 2020 because the original organizer was ill. So in 2020, I organized our first Leap Day Birthday cruise.” Out of 217 attendees, 78 were Leap Day Babies—a ratio that has pretty much held since.
Through this cruise, Tinsley-Sroka hopes to make the Guinness World Record for the most Leap Day Babies celebrating their birthday together. “Us Leap Day Babies have LeapBrothers and LeapSisters all over the world,” she says. “ While the average person probably knows a handful or fewer people born on the same day as them, Tinsley-Sroka sent out 85 "Happy Birthday" Facebook posts on her special day last year.
While Dawn, the Facebook group organizer, is often invited to take part in such IRL festivities, she prefers to spend the months leading up to the day at home. “My goal is not to party like it’s 1999,” she says. “My goal here is to get the word out, and this is my window.”
She’s made it her mission to raise awareness about all things leap day, advocating for the date to be recognized in dictionaries and calendars, just like Groundhog Day. She also wants to call attention to the struggle Leap Day Babies face with regard to birth certificates, insurance forms, and other government documents that don’t accommodate those born on February 29.
As a silver lining, these frustrations also allow Leap Day Babies to be loose with their math. They sometimes claim both their actual age and their actual age divided by four, which is conveniently younger. This year, Dawn’s turning 16 at 64. “My sweet 16,” she says. “And this time, I’ve been kissed.”