February 29: A disappearing day

Andrea King a senior Integrated Mathematics major celebrates her February 29 birthday the day before every year it is not a leap year. Photo by Grace Jelinek.

Emily Inverso

With Feb. 29 around again, 27 Kent State students are turning 5, 6, even 7 years old — or maybe that’s 20, 24 and 28 years old, depending on how one looks at it.

“When I was 16, I remember telling my little cousins that I’d only had four birthdays, and they couldn’t figure out how I could be so young but still so big,” said Andrea King, senior integrated mathematics major, who is 28 years old today. “I think the funnest part [of having this birthday] is being able to joke with people about how old I am.”

But that joke comes with a critical purpose — keeping track of the extra one-quarter of a spin the earth makes on its path around the sun each year. If they were not monitored by tacking an extra day onto the year’s shortest month every four years, the seasons would eventually make a noticeable shift.

“Why do we bother with it, at all?” said Jon Secaur, assistant professor of physics. “No one would notice or care, for quite a while, but eventually the calendar would slip out of step with the seasons and the weather. After about 720 years with no leap years, for example, spring break would be in the fall.”

But even that is a little too easy, Secaur said. Even the extra one-quarter of a spin is not exact, and about every century, he said, we have to skip a leap year to make up for the difference.

Going beyond just remembering the earth’s rotations, though, other pieces of information might be just as hard to remember — like a birthday that only comes around every four years.

“When I was younger, it kind of hurt that I remembered everyone’s birthdays, but nobody remembered mine or even if I was supposed to have one that year if it was a leap year,” said Marian Tyson, senior business management major, who is 24 years old today. “That was kind of a big deal in elementary school, but by the time I turned 12, it was like ‘whatever.’”

With a one in 1,461 chance of being born on Feb. 29, though, it’s the least likely day for someone to be born, making it a unique date.

“I don’t know a single person who has the same birthday as me,” said Heather Mills, sophomore nursing major, who is 20 years old today. “I’ve always kind of wanted to just because it would be cool, but it’s kind of nice at the same time that I never have to share a birthday with someone. That birthday is for me.”

King said she feels selfish, though, on the years her real birthday actually comes around. She celebrates every year on Feb. 28 with her family but said she really doesn’t like all the attention.

“I don’t like feeling on the spot, and I don’t like to have a bunch of people around wishing me a happy birthday,” King said. “Usually on my real birthday, I feel really selfish. I just want to do something fun with my son, like go to Chuck E. Cheese and watch him have fun.”

Technically, leap year babies’ “birthdays” on off years are on March 1 because that date is 365 days from Feb. 29, but even that can get a little confusing. Mills, like King, grew up celebrating her off year birthdays on Feb. 28, which would throw off computer systems.

“Sometimes teachers would say my birthday was March 1, and I’d be like, ‘No, it’s the 28, actually. I got really defensive,” Mills said.

And things get even more confusing with advent of technology — more specifically, Facebook.

“Two years ago, my birthday was set as [Feb. 29] on Facebook, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t change it,” Mills said. “So since it wasn’t leap year, nothing happened, and not very many people knew it was my birthday outside my immediate friends and family.”

But despite some of the confusion, Tyson said she would never change it.

“I like being unique,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it. You know how people say, ‘I hated it’? I didn’t. Even with people forgetting it, I like being different.”

Contact Emily Inverso at [email protected].