for National Geographic News
Raenell Dawn, co-organizer of the Honor Society for Leap Year Day Babies, is a woman with a mission: to have February 29 officially marked as "Leap Day" on the calendar.
Dawn began a club for leap-year-day birthdays in 1988 and eventually met Peter Brouwer, whose own curiosity about his birth date led him to create an Internet community in 1997 for people born on February 29. Joining talents, Dawn and Brouwer created the honor society, which now boasts 4,500 members worldwide.
Since the probability of being born on a leap day is 1 in 1,461, Brouwer said, that adds up to roughly 200,000 people with leap-year birthdays in the U.S. alone and approximately four million worldwide. "It's a pretty important, special day," Dawn said.
For Dawn, Brouwer, and other fellow "leapers," having this unique birth date brings both advantages and challenges.
"The fact that you can say you're 11 rather than 44. People have always said that we're young at heart," Dawn said. A mentor to seven girls in her community ages 10 to 16, Dawn admitted, "They think it's cool that they can say their mentor is 9 or 10 or 11!"
On the other hand, snafus with legal documentation can cause headaches all around. A prime example: Brouwer's driver's license expired February 29, 2003a date that does not exist. For Dawn, actually getting a driver's license with February 29 on it was a battle, since the clerk did not believe it to be an actual day. "'Are you sure you weren't born on the 28th?'" Dawn remembers being asked.
Lobbying for Leap Day
Realizing that Leap Day does not jump out on the calendar to most people, Dawn has crusaded to correct this omission in the public's collective consciousness.
Dawn has lobbied hundreds of calendar companies to insert the words "Leap Day" on their products. She has also contacted five U.S. Presidents to urge the official designation of Leap Day (which would make calendar companies more willing to follow suit). On or around each Leap Day, she gives educational presentations at her community's local elementary school and on March 1 visits her area hospital to "welcome the little leaplings into the world."
Exasperated, Dawn only wants the obvious to be acknowledged. "We have an extra dayit's only been happening for hundreds of years now!"
In fact, the leap day has occurred over the past several thousand years, ever since it was decreed in 46 B.C. by Julius Caesar as an addition to every fourth calendar year. This step was taken to ensure that the tropical, or solar, yearthe time it takes the Earth to make one trip around the suncoincided with the Roman calendar. This later became known as the Julian calendar.
Unfortunately, explained Geoff Chester, Caesar's estimate was not quite correct. Chester is a 20-year veteran of the Smithsonian Institution's Albert Einstein Planetarium in Washington, D.C., and current public affairs officer for the U.S. Naval Observatory.
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