Christy Gardner of West Plains enjoys "the idea that I’m now only 10 and not 40."

Something happened this week that doesn’t happen very often. Wednesday was the 29th day of February, a date that only exists during a leap year.

Leap years feature 366 days instead of the standard 365, in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. The additional day compensates for the fact that 365 days is shorter than a solar year by close to six hours.

In the Gregorian calendar system (the current standard for most of the world), most years that are evenly divisible by four are designated as leap years.

In turn, the common belief is that leap years take place every four years, but the formula behind them is actually much more complicated.

Years that are evenly divisible by 100 are not included, unless they are also evenly divisible by 400. That means an eight-year period sometimes passes between consecutive leap years rather than four.

For example, the years 1600 and 2000 were leap years during the last millennium (because those numbers are evenly divisible by 400), but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. Likewise, during the current millennium, 2400 and 2800 will be leap years, but 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 2600, 2700, 2900 and 3000 will not.

The origin of leap year can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, who were first to add a day to their calendar every four years in an effort to achieve solar year synchronization. Under Julius Caesar, the Romans adopted the idea in 45 B.C., and were first to designate Feb. 29 as the additional day (the leap year system has been tweaked some since then, but they had the general idea).

Not that any of that matters in the life of an average person, but what is relevant to some is having been born on Feb. 29, or “Leap Day.” Called “leaplings,” people with that date of birth are in a select group, because statistics show that barely more than a 1/4-percent of the population shares that distinction (.274).

One local leapling is Raymondville second-grader Sarah Sue Purcell, who turned eight this week, and had the chance to enjoy her second true birthday.

Her mother, Shalena, said Sarah Sue is now at an age where she can appreciate how different her birthday is compared to most people. But the youngster has understandably had her doubts in the past.

“This is the first year she has realized that it’s different, and that she has an actual one on the calendar,” Shalena said. “Before, she thought I was lying to her when I was trying to explain the whole deal. She said, ‘I don’t necessarily think that’s true, mom.’”

Most years, when there’s no Feb. 29, Sarah Sue’s birthday is celebrated on both days surrounding the nonexistent date, with cake on Feb. 28 and presents on March 1. But this year, there was a 29th and Sarah Sue embraced her leapling status.

“She said, ‘Does that make me special?’” Shalena said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re pretty special.’”

Another Ozarks leapling with local ties is Christy Gardner of West Plains.

The former Houston resident attended school here from first grade until her senior year of high school. Her parents, Bob and Sharon Holland, were teachers and coaches at Houston High School. She said that as she was growing up, her birthday was typically celebrated on Feb. 28 during non-leap years, since that date is at least in the same month as the 29th.

“As I grew older, it’s been interesting, and I can honestly say I rather like the idea that I’m now only 10 and not 40,” Gardner said. “And since I don’t have an actual birthday on the others years, I’ve learned to celebrate all week and use that excuse often.”

––The chances of being born on a Feb. 29 are about 1-in-1500. There are about 187,000 people in the U.S. and 4 million people worldwide who were born on Leap Day.

––The exact amount of time the Earth takes to rotate around the sun: 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds.

––According to the Guinness Book of Records, only one verified example exists of a family with members of three consecutive generations born on Feb. 29. Peter Anthony Keogh was born in Ireland in 1940, his son Peter Eric was born in 1964, and his granddaughter Bethany Wealth was born in 1996.

––A Norwegian family holds the official record of number of children born on Feb. 29. Mrs. Karin Henriksen gave birth to children on three consecutive Leap Days: daughter Heidi in 1960, son Olav in 1964, and son Leif-Martin in 1968.

––The town of Anthony, Texas, bills itself as the leap year capital of the world and stages a leap year festival. Leap Day babies, or “leaplings,” come from around the world to the festival’s parade.

––February 2008 had five Fridays. The next time February will have as many Fridays is in 2036.

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