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Leaplings: The Amazing Club that Celebrates a Birthday Every Four Years

The global camaraderie of leaplings will be on display this quadrennial year

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Matt Chase

2024 brings the rare occurrence of February 29, a date that arrives only once every four years.

For most of us, it’s just another day. For around 5 million people worldwide, it’s anything but ordinary: It’s their birthday, which they’ve been waiting four years to celebrate. These unusual people, known as leaplings, are a distinctive group.

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They share unique challenges, camaraderie and valuable wisdom about life and aging. Leaplings share an intense affinity, often as if they’ve known each other their whole lives.

“When we first meet another leapling, they are brothers and sisters. It’s like we already have a bond and have been waiting to find each other,” said Sherry Riddle of New Jersey, who described a celebratory vacation for leaplings.

On February 29, 2020, Riddle “went on a cruise with about 75 other leapers to celebrate our birthdays; it was the most magical birthday I’ve ever experienced. When I saw all my brothers and sisters that day, I couldn’t stop smiling. We were all filled with love and hugs. It’s unspoken, but we all just ‘get’ it.”

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The guests loved the experience so much that they immediately started planning another cruise for this birthday.

But having a birthday that doesn’t fall on the calendar can be a cause of frustration and disappointment. Leaplings worldwide share stories of 21st birthdays celebrated on February 28, only to be denied their first legal drink. Dropdown birthday windows on online forms are a common logistical headache.

And, oh, the confusion! When do you even celebrate your birthday during non-leap years?  And how old are you anyway?

Most leaplings do track their age by both leap years and non-leap years—as do society and biology (alas, there is no evidence leaplings live longer). But at any given moment, if you ask a leapling the otherwise simple question, “How old are you?” you are likely to get two answers (one of which is divisible by four).  

“Once, a friend threw me a '10th' birthday party when I turned 40, complete with a kiddie cake and games,” recalled Hannah Sanderson from Canada. Tammy Roberts from California remembers one of her favorite birthday parties when she turned four — or 16 — years old.

“My mom made me a full sheet cake,” she said. “One half said, ‘Happy 4th Birthday’ with clowns and balloons; the other half, ‘Sweet 16 and Never Been Kissed.’”

In “off” years, some choose February 28 to celebrate because they want to honor their birth month. Others prefer March 1. Resourceful leaplings such as Carla Lippincott of New Jersey take advantage of the non-birthday years. Lippincott “decided 48 hours of birthday time is better than 24.” She’s been celebrating both days ever since.

Leaplings share a perspective on aging and life as well. “The most important insight for me was learning to let go of the things I can’t control,” Riddle said. “So yeah, it’s taught me to roll with the punches.”

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She added: “I think your perspective shifts just slightly when it comes to aging because your ‘leap’ age allows you to feel like you still have some remnants of youth that are unshakeable.”

Sue Steven of New Zealand agrees. “Most leapers seem younger at heart,” she said. She recalled one birthday celebration when she was “three leaps,” and a woman at a nearby table was celebrating her 16th leap birthday.

“I remember her telling me our birthday is special and that we never have to grow up.” 

When you have to wait four years for a birthday to roll around, you learn the value of patience and appreciation.  Lippincott said she and others have a “baked-in feeling that there can always be something special to look forward to, and when you have a reason to celebrate, you should do it with all of your might.”

Eddie Carrillo from California feels appreciation and gratitude for his rare birthday. “For the past few birthdays, I’ve put together five birthday cards and returned to the hospital where I was born. I include a letter and a 50-cent piece,” he said.

The letter reads: "Welcome to the Leap Year Baby Club! Sixty-four years ago, I was right where you are. The chances of being a leap-year baby are 1 in 1,461. And that is you! I'm pretty sure you will be the only one in your class, maybe even in your school. The reason for the 50-cent piece is that it is rare but not unheard of. Just like you! I wish for you a long and happy life, as I have had. Good luck and happy birthday."

Share your experience: Do you know any leaplings? How do they feel about being a February 29 baby? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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