On February 29th in Muggle Studies, we learned about The Pirates of Penzance, a comic opera written by Gilbert and Sullivan, whose main character is a leap-year baby. Although twenty-one years old in 1897, a legal paradox binds him to remain an apprentice "until his twenty-first birthday", which won’t be until February 29th, 1940! Our assignment was to find a leap-year baby (only 0.07 percent of the world’s population is one) and find out about the rituals, inconveniences, and delights that come along with having a birthday only once every four years. Luckily, my best friend Toby is a Muggle “leapling” and she agreed to be interviewed.
Me: When do you celebrate your birthday in a non-leap year?
Toby: We’re split between "28thers" and "1sters". I always celebrate on February 28th because it’s always been a February birthday. I’m not a March baby!
Me: What do you like best about your birthday?
Toby: I love the freebies and that I always have a go-to “fun fact” if I need an icebreaker. People never forget my birthday and it’s also an interesting way to mark the passage of time. The time before this one, I was in middle school – now I’m graduating high school.
Me: What are the biggest perks of having a leap year birthday?
Toby: Every leap day, businesses offer a lot of specials for people born on the 29th. Specials can be free food, free birthday parties, and even free travel. I got a free box of cupcakes this year. But in non-leap years, we run the risk of missing normal birthday perks, like a free cup of coffee at Starbucks, but most cashiers let us redeem them the day before or the day after.
Me: Does everyone make the joke that you’re a quarter of your actual age?
Toby: I get a lot of coloring books and crayons on my "real" birthday. People always tell me I look old for my age, which is four or 16, depending on how you look at it. I sometimes feel bad for the people making the joke because they're trying to be nice and they really think they’re being clever but it's actually quite annoying.
Me: Do leap day babies share a particular bond?
Toby: I know my friend’s older brother and my cousin’s second-grade teacher are both leap day babies and I recognize every name on a list of famous leaplings. I can’t identify a single Ja Rule song, but I know we share a birthday.
Me: Do forms or official documents ever pose a problem?
Toby: I always find drop-down menus on the web with only 28 days for February so I just click and hope for the best. My friend’s older brother almost had his driver’s license taken away because the bouncer thought it didn’t have a valid birth date on it. And Facebook had to fix a non-leap year glitch that sent out a birthday alert on February 28th but on March 1st ... nothing. That’s how I knew who my real friends were.
Me: Is there pressure to have a blowout celebration every four years when the real date rolls around?
Toby: Definitely. It's like the Olympics, a presidential election, and my birthday every four years. My parents wanted to make sure I saw it as a cool and special thing so when I was four they rented a pony and this year they sent a limo to pick me up from school. I’ll be 20 in 2020 and the 29th falls on a Saturday! And of course I have to sing that song from The Pirates of Penzance: “a paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, a paradox!"