Hannah Cain was 3 years old when she realized something wasn’t quite right.
“Mommy, there’s something wrong with this calendar,” she said. “My birthday isn’t on it.”
Hannah, now 24 — age 6 in leap years —was born Feb. 29, 1988, a birth date that rarely falls in the calendar year.
When she was growing up, birthdays were difficult for Hannah. She never understood why her friends’ birthdays were on the calendar but her birthdays were not.
“I never even had a real birthday where I could celebrate at school with cupcakes and a birthday hat until I was in the third grade,” she said.
Now a kindergarten teacher at Cowart Elementary School in Athens, Hannah said this year she is turning the same age as some of the students she teaches.
“Now that I’m older, I understand why there is a leap year,” she said. “But, I still get really excited when Feb. 29 rolls around because I’m able to have a real birthday, just like everyone else.”
Hannah is not alone.
Jacey King, 8, who is just hitting the terrific twos in leap years, shares the same birthday.
She was born Feb. 29, 2004, and was one of two babies born that day at Huntsville Hospital. She is the daughter of Nathan and Amy King.
“We were very skeptical of having her on that day,” Nathan said. “When do we celebrate her birthday? Will she be made fun of?”
All were questions Nathan and Jacey’s mother, Amy, had to answer before they let the doctor know if they were going to be induced Feb. 29 as they awaited the arrival of their second child.
“I simply stated that we would have only one-quarter of the birthdays,” Nathan said. “What a great way to save money.”
“I don’t have to buy her a car until she has 16 birthdays,” he said, noting that 16 leap birthdays would put her at 64 years old.
Kevin Vibbert, 52, is also a leap-year baby.
“He tells everyone that he is only going to be 13,” his wife Alice said. “I remember one year, I gave him a kid’s birthday party. Everyone got him gifts for a child. I guess he is going to be a teen this year, so I’m going to give him a teen party this time.”
Kevin, who retired from the National Guard after 32 years of service and is the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4765, can remember when he was turning 16. The courthouse had old PC systems and when he tried to get his driver’s license, it kept coming up that he was 4 years old.
Kevin, who also works for Limestone County in the engineering department, and Alice have two children, Misty Bolton and Jason Vibbert, as well as two grandchildren, Dylan Vibbert and Cassie Powers. Although, none of his children were born with such an unusual birthday, Kevin’s nephew, Cody Vibbert, was also born on leap year. He turns 16 today.
Hannah, Jacey and Kevin not only share the same birth date, they also share the fact they like to celebrate around the same time.
Hannah said when people used to ask her or her parents when she celebrated her birthday on the years there was no leap year, the response was, “We celebrate the whole week to make sure not to miss it.”
Hannah typically celebrates her birthday Feb. 28.
“I want to still be able to celebrate my birthday the month I was born,” she said. “I fully intend on making this one just as special as the others. I will wear my birthday hat to school and share cupcakes with 22 of my students.”
Jacey also celebrates in February. “Just like any other birthdays celebrated on the weekend closest to the actual day, we just celebrate it near Feb. 28 to keep it in her birth month,” said Nathan.
So does Kevin. “Every year, when there is no 29th of February, we have his birthday on the 28th, because if you wait until the next day, it would be March,” Alice said.
Leap day occurs every four years in order to keep the Gregorian calendar year in sync with Earth’s revolution around the sun, which lasts about 365.25 days.
The chance of being born on a leap day is about 1 in 1,461. About 684 people out of a million people are born on leap day — or about 5 million people on the planet.
Leap-year babies can thank Emperor Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII for the changes.
The Gregorian calendar, in use today, is closely based on the Julian calendar which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC, according to infoplease.com. The Julian calendar featured a 12-month, 365-day year, with an intercalary day inserted every fourth year at the end of February to make an average year of 365.25 days. But because the length of the solar year is actually 365.242216 days, the Julian year was too long by .0078 days (11 minutes 14 seconds), the website said.
This may not seem like a lot, but over the course of centuries it added up, until in the 16th century, the vernal equinox was falling around March 11 instead of March 21. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII adjusted the calendar by moving the date ahead by 11 days and by instituting the exception to the rule for leap years, according to infoplease.com. This new rule, whereby a century year is a leap year only if divisible by 400, is the sole feature that distinguishes the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar.
Following the Gregorian reform, the average length of the year was 365.2425 days, an even closer approximation to the solar year. At this rate, it will take more than 3,000 years for the Gregorian calendar to gain one extra day in error.
Celebrating the big day
Leap say has often been associated with age-old traditions and folklore.
According to Irish legend, St. Bridget struck a deal with St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men every four years.
There is even a town that straddles Texas and New Mexico that considers the extra day special. Anthony, Texas, is considered the leap year capital of the world offering the Worldwide Leap Year Festival every four years. Since 1988, the town has thrown birthday festivals every leap year for those born Feb. 29. People throughout the U.S. and overseas travel to the tiny town to take part in parades, birthday dinners and hot-air balloon rides.