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This year could mark your seventh birthday, but how old are you... really?

Retno Wulandari   01 March 2016 14:00

Brilio.net - This year could mark your seventh birthday, but how old are you... really?

That question is anticipated by an adult woman who was born on February 29, who turned 28 years old this year. During her entire life, writer Rachel Wise celebrated her birthday only seven times.

To explain how she and people who were born on February 29 celebrating their birthdays, she wrote an article and to explain what leap days really are and why leap years exist in the first place.

What’s the leap year, really?

As the Google Doodle celebrates the leap year, you may wonder, what even is a leap year?

Google Doodle celebrating leap year via phoneworld.com

Time on Earth is measured in a bit complicated way. As explained by Wise, we measure years by the length of time takes our Earth to orbit the sun. It’s called solar or tropical year. While the average time is taken by our planet to finish a loop is 354 days as we commonly know, it actually isn’t really right. In fact, the precise measure of a solar year is 365.24219 days.

Those numbers at the end of the decimal point might seem like insignificant differences, yet they understandably add up. Without any adjustment for the extra quarter of a day, the season we know would eventually become very different. Winter would feel like summer, and we’d have Christmas in July.

So in 46 BCE, Roman Emperor Julius Caesar sought to fix this problem. He introduced the Julian calendar, an amended version of the existing Roman calendar. According to him, a year would now include 365 days, with an extra leap day (or intercalary day) in every fourth year.

But according to physicist Judah Levine, though this solution was inventive, it wasn’t quite right.

“It’s not exactly a quarter of an extra day; it’s a little less,” explained Levine, whom the Washington Post once dubbed him as ‘the nation’s timekeeper.’

According to Levine, who works in the time and frequency division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, adding one day in every four years was too much.

That solution resulted in a surplus of 11 minutes each year. Again, it seems insignificant, but by the 1500s, the Julian calendar, and the solar year were misaligned by about 10 days. Then in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII established the Gregorian calendar and introduced the century rule.

“If a leap year falls on a century, a year ending in double zeroes, you only add a leap day if it’s divisible by 400,” said Levine. “For that reason 1900 wasn’t a leap year but 2000 was.”

By 2100, we’ll skip the leap year again, forcing leap babies to wait for a total of eight years to celebrate their birthday.

Leap babies gather together to celebrate

In the US, there are at least two distinguished communities that encourage fellow leapers to gather and celebrate. One is the Leap Year Birthday Celebration in the town of Anthony, US, which straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. This year, that celebration includes a wine tasting, cowboy re-enactments, and a parade.

According to Quartz, it was Mary Ann Brown, a resident of Antony who was born February 29, 1932, who had the city declared the Leap Year Capital of the World in 1988. She petitioned the governors of Texas and New Mexico to make the title official.

Image via zazzle.com

“It’s a special privilege,” Benjamin Romero, mayor pro-tem of Anthony, Texas. “This year we have leap day babies coming from as far as Australia, India, and England.”

The other community is the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, where leap babies may gather together online and share their stories with each other.

However, with some communities commemorating the leapers, their numbers are unclear. The National Center for Health Statistics tracks birth rates, but they don’t keep statistics on the number of babies born on specific days.

It was Raenell Dawn, the co-founder of Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, and her co-founder Peter Brouwer (both are leapers themselves) who estimate that the folks who bear this distinctive honor are around one in 1,461.

“It’s about 684 in a million,” Dawn said. “There are about 200,000 in the United States and just under 5 million worldwide.”

That means while leap babies such as Wise are a small group who own a feeling of exclusivity, they’re also large enough to have a healthy community dialogue. And according to Wise, when they get to talking, it’s evident that many of the individual struggles are really quite universal. One of the topics frequently discussed is which day leap babies should use to celebrate their birthday on off-years.

Life has been hard for leap babies... but at least, they have the pride

In the off-years, how do they celebrate their birthdays?

Image via dailymail.co.uk

That’s a question that seemingly pops into our minds in every February 29. Some people suggest that February 28 is the most accurate time to celebrate while other insist March 1 is the correct one since they were born on the day following February 28.

To add the complication, some people believe the time of day is the determining factor: if you were born in the morning, the 28th February is yours, but if you were delivered past noon, it’s the 1st March. It can all get rather heated.

But birthday celebration isn’t the most puzzling thing that the leaplings have to face. By far, the hottest topic of conversation among them is the bureaucratic problems they inevitably have to deal with.

Those things, which Wise called it the red-tape nightmare, can take many forms. Sometimes it’s as simple as not being able to select their birth date in a drop-down menu online or those several years when Facebook didn’t acknowledge they had a birthday. Often it’s more considerable, such as problems with inaccurate legal documents.

To make it even harder, all modern leap babies have to undergo these snafus for two milestones. Both their 18th and 21st birthdays fall on the off-years, and the US government have historically struggled to find an applicable way out.

According to Wise, when she was younger, her driver’s license in Florida listed her real birthday.  But it’s also read “under 21 until 2/29/2009,” a date that didn’t actually exist. As for her 18th birthday, it was up to people themselves to determine whether it was on February 28 or March 1.

Dawn said there is no standard for how February 29 birthdays are handled. It differs from state to state (for the US), and case to case. “There’s one leapling I talked to whose birthday certificate says February 28 and her license says March 1,” Dawn said. “February 29 isn’t listed on either document.”

But despite a common headache, all leap babies have a certain pride from their unique status. As Wise wrote, “Many people say it makes them feel special, not to mention enabling them to go all out celebrating those rare ‘real’ birthdays. Leap babies are also fond of claiming that we’re inherently young at heart.”

“My mom always offered me the same consolation, telling me that I’d thank her one day–on the morning when I can truthfully tell the world I’m only 10 instead of 40,” she added.

They’re folks with forever young privilege.

Leap babies who made their way to the hall of fame

The chances of having a birthday on a leap day are extremely slim, as mentioned before, the odds are one in 1,461 to be exact. Yet, there's quite an eclectic mix of famous people born on F Here they are:

John Byrom – A romantic poet

Pope Paul III – A 16th Century pontiff

Image via wikipedia

George Bridgetower – A 19th Century musician

Ann Lee – the leader of the Shakers

Gioacchino Rossini - An Italian composer

Charles Pritchard – A British astronomer

Sir Dave Brailsford – An English cyclist and coach

Image via cyclingweekly.co.uk

Tony Robbins – A Motivational speaker

Alan Richardson – A composer

Image via telegraph.co.uk

Darren Ambrose – An English footballer

Ja Rule – A rapper.

Image via musiclipse.com

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