My good friend Phil Haney is celebrating his seventh birthday this week. No, I am not chummy with an elementary school crowd. Phil is actually just one year younger than I am. But he is a member of a rare breed that enters this world every four years. He’s a Leap Day baby.
That’s right, Phil’s birthday is Feb. 29, a feature he shares with less than .1 percent of the world’s population. And for the first time since he was born in 1980, Leap Day this year is going to be on a Friday.
“It’s always a lot of pressure,” Phil said about planning his birthday gatherings. “It’s like the Olympics, and you’ve got to make a big deal out of it. So it always ends up being disappointing.”
Phil said the concept of not having a birthday to celebrate three out of every four years was confusing for him as a child.
“I actually took it really seriously (which is not something he does too often, being a comedy writer for National Lampoon),” Phil said. “I was worried I wasn’t going to get presents or cake.”
But as only child, Phil of course always got a birthday celebration even during non-Leap Years. He chooses to celebrate in non-Leap Years on March 1, since on that date he has already turned the new age, while if it were Feb. 28, his mythical birthday still hasn’t happened. This can get confusing when people ask about his birthday month.
And having that rare birthday has on occasion created incidents. Some years back when Phil was 21, he showed his ID to a bouncer at a bar. The man wouldn’t let him in because he thought it was a fake.
“The guy saw my birth date, and said, ‘There’s no Feb. 29, nice try man.’ He started trying to tear it up,” Phil said. “I was freaking out, trying to explain to him what Leap Year is.” Luckily, another bouncer was able to clear up the situation.
So why do we have Leap Year? Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t exist simply to confuse people about what day it is. It actually makes sure our seasons don’t get out of whack.
The normal calendar year is 365 days because that’s about how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun, also known as a solar year. But in actuality a solar year is about 365.25 days. So if we didn’t have Leap Year, every four years the calendar year would fall behind the solar year by one day. By the end of a century, it would be 25 days. And seasons would be starting a month later.
However, there are some complications. Since the Earth actually revolves around the sun for a little less than 365.25 days, every 100 years we don’t have a Leap Year. We have this non-Leap year in years 1700, 1800, 1900 etc. So why did we have a Leap Year in 2000? Because, with the modern Gregorian Calendar, every 400 years we do have a Leap Year.
And all this makes it so our calendar and the Earth’s journey around the sun are almost completely together … almost. In about 3,000 years, the calendar year is going to be another day behind. So hopefully somebody will figure out what to do before that crisis comes to be.
And if you think all that is confusing, try figuring out the dates for cultures that use a lunar calendar, where there are years in which an extra month is added!
But Phil’s not worried about the technical details. All he cares about is that this year he gets to celebrate his birthday on the actual day. And, besides, he knows when he’s an old and gray being a Leap Day baby will come in handy.
“When I’m 80, I’ll actually be 20,” he said. “That will make me feel better, or at least be a good conversation piece in the retirement home.”