Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Leap Years keep rolling on!

2/29/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

If today is your birthday, Happy Leap Day!

Yes, this is February 29—an unusual, extra rotating day that occasionally results in a year of 366 days. Julius Caesar introduced Leap Years in the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago. We can thank him for your special day and our confusion.

As you know, most years, February has 28 days. But thanks to Julius, professional calendar keepers scramble ‘nearly’ every four years and add an extra day to keep our calendars in alignment with the Earth’s revolutions around the sun. Otherwise, every 100 years, our calendar would be off by about 24 days and we don’t want any off calendars!

Did you notice the word ‘nearly’ in the above paragraph? That means an extra day isn’t automatically added every four years. Some years it doesn’t happen. To become a Leap Year and even up the Gregorian calendar that we live by, certain precise criteria must be met:
1. The year must be evenly divisible by 4.
2. It is NOT a Leap Year if the year can be evenly divided by 100;
3. UNLESS, the year is also evenly divisible by 400. Then it is a Leap Year. (Source:

That means that 2000 and 2400 are Leap Years; while 1800, 1900, 2200, 2300 and 2500 are NOT Leap years. Coming up, we will have predictable Leaps in the years 2016, 2020, 2024, 2028 and 2032.

Since Leap Year mostly affects birthdays, I wondered how many extra babies are born on that day. According to the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, there are an estimated five million people born every Feb. 29 around the world. The Society, located in Keizer, OR, has about 10,000 members and some interesting information.

The main goals of the Society are to promote Leap Day awareness and tell birthday stories. I checked out their website to see what some of our Leap Birthday babies had to say about a lifetime of unusual birthdates. The ones I chose ranged from a 116 year old Australian to eight-year-old S.C. triplets.

Edith Milne Woodhead is the Society’s Grandest Leapy. She was born in 1896, lives in a nursing home in Australia, is in good health and has lived in three (3!) centuries. That would make her 116 years!

Elsie Lineham MacDonald was born in 1916. She lives in British Columbia, Canada and says, “I finally hit 21 in the year 2000. Now legal to drive, drink and stay out all night. As per English tradition, I was presented the key to the house.”

Thomas C. Nelson was born in 1920 in the state of Washington. As of his entry he was 87 years old and pushing to see his 22nd birthday.

Nelson says, “One item of interest: when I was shot down during the Santa Cruz Island Battle on 26 October 1942 I bailed out and spent about 26 hours with my life jacket and sharks and picked up next day by IJN Yugomo, a Japanese destroyer. Spent 35 months as a POW. While in the Blue Pacific Ocean near Guadalcanal. I made a wish that I would see my 21st Birthday which I observed in 2004. I am now one of the oldsters when I go into town.”

Lisa Nabieszkowas of Ontario, Canada, born in 1964 says, “Yay!!! Fun to find my tribe!!”

Riley Harris is one of a Leap Day set of quadruplets born in 1988. He says, “Hey guys, I'm the 2nd of 4 babies born leap day '88. I got a brother Ryan, and two sisters Rachel and Roxanne. If you are, or know of any other leap day quadruplets, could you please contact me? As far as I know we are the only ones in the world.”

Samuel Harris Rowe and his adorable siblings were born 2004 at 6:32 p.m. He says, “I am a spontaneous triplet born naturally on Leap Day. My brother, sister, and I hold the record for the largest triplets (total weight 16 lbs. 13 oz.) ever born in Charleston, SC. My mommy carried us for 37.5 weeks.” (Betty sez, “Mommy deserves a medal!”)

And who can forget the Leap Birthday saga told in “The Pirates of Penzance.” This popular Gilbert & Sullivan operetta debuted in 1879 to rave reviews. It was praised “as exquisitely funny and the music strikingly tuneful and catching.” (You may remember the famous line “Lock up your daughters, the pirates are coming to town!”)

The story centers around Frederic, a lad apprenticed to a band of tenderhearted, orphaned pirates. Frederic’s nurse was directed by his father to take him to a ‘pilot’ in the harbor for a sea-faring career. Instead, the hard of hearing nurse gave him over to a band of pirates until he celebrated his 21st birthday.

As the story evolves, we learn that the pirates cannot make a profit because they are too compassionate. Frederic tries to convince them to give up piracy to no avail. After his 21st birthday emancipation, Frederic falls in love with Mabel.

A complicated saga of a Major General falsely claiming to be an orphan to stop the pirates from marrying his daughters escalates into all kinds of madness. Suddenly it is revealed that Frederic was born on February 29 in a Leap Year and technically has only had five birthdays rather than the 21 required by his contract.

Oh, my! Poor Frederick, bound by honor and duty, leaves Mabel and rejoins the pirates to stay until he is 80 years old. More chaos ensues. But in the end, Frederic is released and reunited with Mabel. The Major General and the pirates make peace and all is well.

Some years are just too special to have only 365 days—this is one of them—enjoy your extra day!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 

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