Saturday, February 29th, is a Leap Day. Chances of being born on this day are one out of 1,461, while for any other birthdate, chances are one out of 365. To mark the rare occasion, we spoke to some UAE expats who celebrate their real birthday once every four years, to see what is so special about it.
“I am rare, I am among the 0.07 per cent of the world's population who celebrate their birthday on February 29, I have never met anyone else who shares my birthday,” said Rawan Haithem, who works for an Arabic newspaper in the UAE. The Jordanian national who was born in 1996 is turning 24 this year, but according to her leap year birthday, she will turn just seven.
People born on February 29 are called leapers or leaplings. Haithem added: “We are at an advantage, most people have just one day to celebrate, we can chose any day of the year to celebrate. And when the actual birthday comes once in four years, then the celebration is more spectacular.”
The Sharjah resident added: “My family gets together to celebrate my special day, because it happens rarely. Moreover, leapers get many discounts and offers at malls on February 29.”
Dubai-based British expat, Jason Woodham also loves being a leaper. He says that while regular people who have a single birthday to celebrate, leapers have two: “When it is not a leap year nobody knows which day your birthday is celebrated on, February 28 or March 1, so you get two lots of presents.”
Woodham, who was born in 1984, recalls from his childhood: “How everybody would think it funny to buy me cards with the leap year numbers on them. When I turned four I received cards with ‘1’ on them, when I turned eight I got cards with ‘2’ on them. So, no doubt this year all my cards will have ‘9’ on them.
So were leap years celebrated more spectacularly? “Not really,” said Woodham, “as I am an only child so every year celebrations were made over the top by my mother.”
Indian expat Sharon Kulathumkal said he was waiting excitedly for his leap year birthday. He said: “My friends and I may take a road trip to Jebel Jais or Jebel Hafeeth, I might even try to go skydiving. I usually celebrate my birthdays on February 28. But, the actual leap year birthdays need to be celebrated in a special manner.”
Kulathumkal, however, didn’t get a chance to celebrate all his leap year birthdays properly. He recalled: “In 2008, I had a bike accident, I was driving without a helmet and it was a bad crash. I ended up losing two teeth. That birthday was spent recovering at home in bed. My friends came to visit and wish me.
Kulathumkal, who will turn 32 this year, added: “In university, my birthday made me feel like a star, I remember a classmate named Justin once loudly announced that my birthday falls on February 29, and it was a discussion how that is a rare thing. It felt very special.”
However, a Filipina leapling, based in Dubai didn’t share such rosy memories. Mageline Detorres, 33, said: “When I was a child, I used to be bullied for not having a regular birthday. In our area where I lived, it wasn’t something amazing to be born on a day that came only once every four years.” So, Torres’ mother and grandmother decided to change her birth date on official documents to February 28.
This might not be a bad thing altogether, because, even though birth certificates and many government agencies like Social Security in other parts of the world do use February 29 for those born on leap Day, leaplings occasionally encounter bureaucratic difficulties using their true birth dates. Some computerised dropdown menus don't even include February 29.
As she grew Torres understood that her real birthday was more special. She added: “It’s special now, every leap year my family members, sisters and friends get so excited and say that my ‘true’ birthday is coming.”
What is a Leap Year?
In a regular year, there are 365 days. But every four years, an extra day is added to the month of February, the shortest month of the year.
Why? It takes 365.24 days for the earth to orbit the sun. But, since we can't have 0.24 of a day, all that extra time is stored up and used on a leap year, when we add one full day making it 366 days.