Question: What’s rarer than an Elizabeth Warren primary election victory on Super Tuesday? Answer: Not much. Maybe a Tulsi Gabbard delegate or a TV station that didn’t run a Mike Bloomberg commercial.
Actually, the response I was going for is this: A Leap Day baby. Did you know that less than 200,000 Americans share February 29th as their birthday? That’s out of 325 million of us. The point was driven home to me this year because we now have a “Leapling” (that’s a technical term) in our family. Fast on the heels of a new grandson born earlier in the month, a new granddaughter made her appearance at 3:30 P.M. on February 29th. She surprised everyone but herself since her due date was still two weeks off. (Both mothers and progeny are doing terrifically, by the way.)
The only other Leapling I’ve ever known is a gentleman with whom we shared a neighborhood as our kids were growing up. Besides always being a terrific host of the annual subdivision Super Bowl party, he’s a very successful businessperson and great family man. So, my personal knowledge of people with that rare birthday is very positive.
I haven’t yet plied him for information as to when he usually celebrates his day. Is it February 28th or March 1st? My daughter and son-in-law will have the final say on that, of course, at least for a few years, but my preference is March 1st. That’s a special day for those of Welsh descent. St. David is the patron Saint of Wales, and the natives celebrate him in a big way that day. Red Dragon emblems (see a Welsh flag for reference) are seen in abundance on lapels and articles of clothing throughout the land. Parades are held, and Welsh cakes eaten (along with leek soup). Thanks to my dad (whose father came to America from Wales in 1910), my family always wishes each other “Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus” (Happy St. David’s Day) that day thereby using up most of our ability to speak the language. To keep the heritage alive, that seems a good day to celebrate a birthday too.
Quick research shows that there have been several famous (or infamous) people born on February 29th. Chief among them may well be Superman, although that can’t be humanly verified. Rapper Ja Rule celebrates big every four years. Ditto motivational speaker Tony Robbins. Those of a certain age will remember singer Dinah Shore. She also is a Leapling. Also in the musical world, jazzy Jimmy Dorsey and William Tell composer Gioachino Rossini (you’re yelling “Hi-Yo, Silver” right now, aren’t you) shared the day. Alas, in addition, there were a couple of serial killers of note, but we won’t mention them by name.
Over the years, some people have called those born on Leap Day lucky. But astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was a bit more pragmatic about the whole thing. He reportedly said, “The leap day is misnamed. We’re not leaping anywhere. The calendar is simple, and abruptly, catching up with Earth’s orbit.” To which I say, “Get a life, Neil.”
Obviously, Tyson does have a legitimate point. According to those who know these things (which would definitely include an astrophysicist), the Earth revolves around the sun in 365.25 days. So, to make sure we don’t get out of sync with nature, we add that extra day every four years to even things out. What would it mean if we didn’t have a leap year? It seems we’d lose about six hours each year. That equates to about 24 days every century. Had we skipped February 29th since the founding of our country, we may be having winter in June by now. But November and December would probably be warmer.
The Romans, who basically did whatever they wanted to for several hundred years, were pretty much responsible for the regular 28 days of February. Extensive research shows that, originally, the Roman calendar only had ten months, March through December. The days of January and February were just known as winter. A king named Pompilius added the additional months. (Given his egocentric-sounding name, you would have thought one of those months would have been called Pompiliary or something like that.) Good ol’ Julius Caesar made the calendar 365 days. In 1582, Pope Gregory VIII added the extra day to February.
No matter who did what when, I’m just glad my Leapling and grandson are both healthy – and hopefully quickly learning nighttime is for sleeping, daytime is for playing. We’ll work on the timing of birthday parties next year.
©MMXX. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer