Happy Leap Day; Four More Years Until The Next One

29 02 2012

Every day on Facebook, I discover that it is the birthday of someone I know.

This piece of information helps me keep track of all the birthdays that I forget (in other words, all of them) and even lets me send messages congratulating people on successfully completing another year of social media activity. But today is different.

Today, nobody in my extended network of real and virtual friends seems to be celebrating the day that they shuffled onto this mortal coil.

There is a good reason for this. February 29 is a date that only has any relevance once every four years. It is the Gregorian calendar version of the World Cup and the Olympics. A brief moment in time when the eyes of the world will be on those lucky enough to be born on a day that needs legal definition as to when they can officially blow out the candles on their cake.

“Leaplings” or “leap year babies” are treated differently around the world depending on how countries treat time intervals. According to Wikipedia – that font of all non-academic sanctioned reference – it works as follows;

If a period fixed by weeks, months, and years does not commence from the beginning of a week, month, or year, it ends with the ending of the day which proceeds the day of the last week, month, or year which corresponds to that on which it began to commence. But if there is no corresponding day in the last month, the period ends with the ending of the last day of the last month.

Which seems really quite simple. Your “birthday” is either February 28 or March 1.

But in reality, a Leapling can only fully celebrate their actual arrival on this planet once every four years. Or to put it another way, in a year when there is a major sporting event happening.

There have been attempts in popular culture to acknowledge February 29.

A recent episode of hit comedy 30 Rock focussed on Leap Day as a real celebration. The NBC show, now in it’s sixth season, had Kenneth (the page) dressed in blue and yellow with a straw boater and false handlebar mustache explaining how Leap Day William emerges from the Marianas Trench and interacts with children by exchanging candy for tears. It then moves into the realm of A Christmas Carol with Jack being forced to observe Leap Days from the past, present and future – with Kenneth again being the “spiritual” guide for a man who prefers business to any sort of religious experience.

In 1879, Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” focussed on a group of Cornish pirates forcing a young apprentice to stay with them as he had been born on February 29 and although he thought he was 21, it turned out that he was only six and still an apprentice pirate. The determination of the Pirate Chief in making sure that Frederick maintained his obligation to the gang until he was legally allowed to leave was admirable but the sight of a grown man being told that he wasn’t even old enough to work in the mines or go up a chimney was a sensitive subject in post-Industrial Revolution Britain.

An enduring tradition (especially popular with the ladies) is that February 29 is the day when women can ask men to marry them. For men who are afraid of commitment, the fear of being put into an awkward situation every four years is normally cancelled out by using February 14 as the day to propose/make an empty promise – or alternatively they can just hide in whatever cupboard they think their significant other won’t look into.

In Greece, it is considered unlucky to marry on February 29 – although it does make the date a lot easier to remember for men of a forgetful nature.

But ultimately February 29 is just an extra day. An additional twenty-four hours that happens every four years. It is not a public holiday, Leap Day William doesn’t emerge from the deep dressed in an unsuitable hat and people born on this day can comfort themselves that they are legally recognized as being born in non-Leap Years either yesterday or tomorrow.

Personally, I am going to spend my February 29 watching England vs Holland. Using a non-existent day to watch a football match of little importance.

And I will not be wearing blue and yellow.

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