January 18th, 2017



Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published Feb.22, 2016


Leaplings represent a special class of people in our society, people who are somewhat different from the rest of us. Leaplings (not to be confused with lepers) are a minority group who have for far too long been ignored by the vast majority and have had to learn to deal with their "'specialness" in quiet anonymity. It is high time, I believe, to recognize the leapling community and bring these people out of the shadows.

In bringing greater awareness and much overdo respect to leaplings it is helpful to first understand what they are not. Leaplings are not to be confused with leapfrogs, which are people (usually children but not necessarily) who vault over each other's stooped backs. It is not to say that a leapling cannot from time to time engage in said activity, many do and that is just fine. However, to assume that all leaplings are by definition leapfrogs would be incorrect, plain wrong, and totally insensitive.

And neither should leaplings be confused with lemmings, since leaplings generally don't trend to commit mass suicide by throwing themselves off high cliffs, although I suppose one or two have.

One cannot choose to become a leapling, anymore than one can choose to have brown eyes or blue eyes. You are either born a leapling or you are not and it can only occur every four years, on February 29th to be exact. We call it "'Leap Year" and that is exactly what we have in 2016. To fully understand leap year you must understand the Gregorian calendar. Since my name is Gregory I will explain it to you.

The leap day of the Gregorian calendar, is a date that occurs in most years that are divisible by 4, such as 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, and 2024. Years that are divisible by 100, but not by 400, do not contain a leap day. Thus, 1700, 1800, and 1900 did not contain a leap day, 2100, 2200, and 2300 will not contain a leap day, while 1600 and 2000 did, and 2400 will. Are you still with me?

February 29 is the 60th day of the Gregorian calendar in such a year, with 306 days remaining until the end of the year. In the Chinese calendar, this day will only occur in years of the monkey, dragon, and rat. Although most modern calendar years have 365 days, a complete revolution around the Sun (one solar year) takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours. An extra 24 hours thus accumulates every four years, requiring that an extra calendar day be added to align the calendar with the sun's apparent position. Without the added day, the seasons would move back in the calendar, leading to confusion about when to undertake activities dependent on weather, ecology, or hours of daylight. And if there's one thing we don't need in this world, it's more confusion. Stick around, I'm almost done.

Now here's the best part, the Gregorian calendar repeats itself every 400 years, which is exactly 20,871 weeks including 97 leap days. Over this period, February 29 falls on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday 13 times each; 14 times each on Friday and Saturday; and 15 times each on Monday and Wednesday. The order of the leap days is: Thursday, Tuesday, Sunday, Friday, Wednesday, Monday, and Saturday. Get it?

February 29 came to be regarded as the leap day when the Roman system of numbering days was replaced by sequential numbering in the late Middle Ages. The concepts of the leap year and leap day are distinct from the leap second, which results from changes in the Earth's rotational speed. I know all this stuff because my name is Gregory.

So there you have it, that's why leaplings only have a real birthday every four years. Sad, no? So when should the leaplings celebrate their birthdays on non-leap years? Glad you asked.

The effective legal date of a leapling's birthday in non-leap years varies between jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, when a person born on February 29 turns 18 in a non-leap year, they are considered to have their birthday on March 1 in the relevant year. In New Zealand, a person born on February 29 is deemed to have their birthday on February 28 in non-leap years, for the purposes of Driver Licensing. In Taiwan, the legal birthday of a leapling is February 28 in common years.

But in Burbank, California this year my 36 year-old nephew, Adam Rittmiller, will be celebrating his 9th leap year birthday. If you run into him wish him happy birthday. You won't get another chance for four years.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's also a Southern California-based freelance writer.