Four years ago, halfway through a “Star Wars” marathon, Joseph Ross and his pregnant wife, Tristen, rushed off to the hospital. Later the next day, they welcomed their baby son, Jacoby, into the world.
Fast-forward to Monday, and the couple will be celebrating a special occasion: their son’s first birthday.
Wait, first birthday? Why not his fourth? Blame it on the calendar.
Jacoby is what some would call a “leapling,” or “leaper.” He was born on the leap day of a leap year, the extra day that is typically added every four years to the end of February.
“I was excited about it, but my wife was ‘eh’ about it. She was worried about kids making fun of him when he’s young, or not being able to celebrate an actual birthday every year,” said Ross, a scientist in the crime lab at Boston police headquarters. “But now we think it’s pretty cool.”
To mark the celebration, Ross is taking Jacoby on a family trip to Disney World for the week. Whether Ross and his wife will put one or four candles on their son’s cake on Monday in the Sunshine State is still up for debate.
While some deem the birthday a bad omen, Jacoby’s family sees the date as special.
“I guess you could call him lucky,” said Ross.
Leap Day exists because, in actuality, the earth makes a loop around the sun every 365.2421 days. That extra time adds up, requiring an additional day to be tacked on to the month of February to keep things between the solar system and our calendar in line. (There’s one more detail: The leap year is skipped on century years, except when that year is evenly divisible by 400. So 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years but 2000 was.)
The chances of being born on a leap day are one in 1,461, according to Raenell Dawn, cofounder of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, a website dedicated to those bonded by their inconstant birth date.
About 10,000 babies, on average, were born in the United States on each of the four leap days between 2000 and 2012, according to the latest data available by the Social Security Administration. Dawn estimated there are 200,000 Leap Day babies alive in the US today.
Dawn, who was born on a Leap Day in 1960, will technically celebrate her 14th birthday this year.
“I’m quite mature for my age,” she said.
Dawn’s website, which boasts a fan base of more than 11,000 people, is a platform for “leaplings” in communities across the country to connect, share birthday celebrations, and learn about their distinctive birthright.
She said for all the confusion that comes with being a “leapling” — filling out forms online that don’t account for the Feb. 29 date; being teased by classmates growing up; and not seeing your birthday on a calendar each year, to name a few — there’s much to be proud of.
“A lot of people see it as a unique birthday and exciting, and it’s a fun conversation starter, and I am all for that. But the more I got into it growing up, the more I realized how important it really is. I think it’s the most important day on the calendar,” she said.
From a legal standpoint, as long as the year turns, the person’s age isn’t affected.
Some people will go out of their way to avoid a Leap Day birthday, however.
Ross said when he and his wife were at the hospital nearly four years ago, the maternity ward was mostly empty. When they were asked by hospital staff to fill out their son’s birth certificate information, choosing “Feb. 28” was an option.
“A lot of people have a strange reaction to it,” he said, adding that mothers often opt to be induced into labor a day before a Leap Day for superstitious reasons. “We look at it as a positive, though.”
As do other “leaplings.”
Jordan Piantedosi, a freelance artist from Braintree, sees it as a sign of good luck and fortune.
For her seventh birthday this year — she’ll really be 28 — Piantedosi plans to add a child-like twist to an adult celebration.
“I’m going to have a tea party at my friend’s house. Like a girly, fluffy tea party, but with pink champagne and cake,” she said. “I’m trying to keep in the spirit of youthful optimism.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.