Debbie Ward, grandmother of seven, turns 16 on Saturday.
Kelly Alexander will turn 11 the same day, making her, for a couple of months, the same age as her daughter.
If it sounds like they've found the fountain of youth, maybe they have, but not the one Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was seeking. Instead, they can thank a Roman general and a Catholic pope for helping them hold on to their youth without having to lie about their age.
Ward, of Brayton, Tennessee, and Alexander, of Tunnel Hill, Georgia, are among a select few — less than 0.07% of the world's population — born on a leap day, Feb. 29.
Reference site Thoughtco.com puts the probability of a leap day birthday at 1 in 1,461, compared to 4 in 1,461 for any other day. Given current population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 205,000 people in the U.S. have a Feb. 29 birthday, according to the site. For the world's population, 4.8 million have a Feb. 29 birthday.
For "leapers" or "leaplings," as they're sometimes called, leap day birthdays may be the cleverest of all anti-aging devices.
Leap year traditions and superstitions
Here are a few things you can associate with leap years.
* Women can propose to men. This tradition dates to 5th century Ireland when St. Brigid allegedly struck a deal with St. Patrick, allowing women to propose on Feb. 29. Ladies, to increase your chances, tradition also suggests you wear a red petticoat or pants when you propose to your man.
* You’ll hear about the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. It’s exclusive to those born on Feb. 29. Its mascot is a frog.
* Travelers will flock to the city of Anthony, which straddles the border of Texas and New Mexico. It nominated itself as the Leap Year Capital of the World and holds a festival to celebrate the occasion.
* You can watch the Summer Olympics. This year’s games will be held July 24-Aug. 9 in Tokyo.
* You can vote for a U.S. president. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
HOW IT WORKS
Leap years are added to the calendar about every four years to keep the calendar in alignment with the Earth's revolutions around the sun. It takes the Earth 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds to circle once around the sun. Without an extra day on Feb. 29 nearly every four years, we would lose almost six hours every year. After only 100 years, a calendar without leap years would be off by about 24 days, putting it out of sync with the seasons. Leap days fix that error by giving Earth the additional time it needs to complete a full circle around the sun.
Roman general Julius Caesar implemented the first leap day in his Julian calendar, which he introduced in 45 BCE. A leap day was added every four years. At the time, leap day was Feb. 24 and February was the last month of the year, says TimeAndDate.com.
However, adding a leap day every four years was too often and, eventually, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar, still in use today. This calendar has a more precise formula for calculation of leap years.
Instead of leap days occurring every four years, they occur generally every four years. To determine if it's an "every" or an "almost," three criteria must be taken into account.
* The year must be evenly divisible by 4.
* If the year can also be evenly divided by 100, it is not a leap year. Unless
* The year is also evenly divisible by 400. Then it is a leap year.
Fun fact: The year 2000 was the first instance when the third criterion was used (in most parts of the world) since the start of the transition from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The year 2400 also will be a leap year, while 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500 were/are not.
Did you know?
In addition to leap day and leap year, there is also a leap second. This one-second adjustment is occasionally applied to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to accommodate the difference in precise time, as measured by atomic clocks, and imprecise observed solar time, known as UT1, which varies due to irregularities and long-term slowdown in the Earth’s rotation.
In Chattanooga, the previous leap second occurred on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, at 6:59:60 p.m., when UTC time was 23:59:60.
The next leap second was expected to be added on June 30, 2020. However, since the speed of the Earth’s rotation is subject to unpredictable short-term variations, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service has announced that a leap second won’t be added in June. The next possible date is Dec. 31, 2020.
Also, the seemingly odd acronym for Coordinated Universal Time, UTC, was chosen as a compromise between English and French speakers. In English, Coordinated Universal Time would normally be abbreviated as CUT. In French, Temps Universel Coordonné would normally be abbreviated TUC. Therefore, UTC was chosen for use in all languages to minimize confusion.
FUN WITH NUMBERS
Erlanger nurse Samuel Meyer, who's turning 6 (24), on leap day, says that, when he was growing up, his mother would always write the 29th on every calendar, even in non leap years, effectively canceling March 1 to give her son a page that showed his February birth date.
"As a kid, I didn't think March had a 1st," he says. "I thought it started with a 2."
Barbie Wood says her son is also celebrating his 6th, or 24th, birthday this year and is especially excited that he doesn't have to party on a weekday. This is the first time since he was born in 1996 that leap day has fallen on a Saturday.
"Also, he is a new father this year, and when we think about it, his son will eventually be older than him," she says.
That's the case for Alexander, the soon-to-be-11-year-old who won't turn 12 until 2024, four years after her daughter turns 12 this May.
Alexander, who is also a Bicentennial baby, born in 1976, says she doesn't mind telling her annual age, almost 44. "But I think it's fun to see people's faces when I tell them I'm 10 or that I had a baby when I was 8."
Alexander was happy to discover that one of her co-workers at McKee Foods is also a leap day baby. Jackie Mateo of Hixson says Alexander is the only other person she's ever known who shares a Feb. 29 birthday.
Mateo was born in 1968, so she'll turn 52, or 13, this year.
"The funniest celebration I had was when I turned 20, or 5 years old," she says. "My college roommates surprised me by taking me to Chuck E. Cheese."
It's standard practice at the children's entertainment mecca to call the birthday boys and girls to the front during party hours so that everyone can cheer for them.
"When I was called to stand up in front with the 5- to 7-year-olds, my college buddies howled hysterically as they watched the confusion on the faces of the kids and their parents," Mateo says.
Mateo jokes that she hopes "to live to see 20 or 21," but usually gives her annual, as opposed to her quadrennial, age when anybody asks.
"It doesn't seem that novel to me as it seems to others," she says. "After 52 years, I suppose it has become a familiar cycle."
Ward, the not-quite- 16-year-old grandmother, is just the opposite. "I always use my 'real' number of birthdays," she says. "I work with children, so this is always a good laugh with them."
Meyer, the Erlanger nurse, is the same. "I love to mess with people who don't know how old I am. I use a dead-serious tone when I tell them my age in leap years. It is really funny watching how long it takes people to put the dots together."
Alexander agrees. "It feels unique," she says. "I've always felt it fit me well. It's fun to boggle people's minds when they find out."
Pat Charles, corporate communications director for Erlanger Health System, Chattanooga's largest employer, says she's checked the records and found only Meyer with a leap day birthday among the health-care company's 7,000-plus current employees.
But she recalls a former employee whose colleagues threw a "Sweet 16" party for the 64-year-old born on Feb. 29. Charles says the party decor and gifts were more suited for an adolescent girl.
"I think a themed Barbie doll was even in the mix," she recalls.
It was actually a Barbie cake, says Phyllis Harden Oliver, who retired from Erlanger after 39 years and has been married to her husband, Charles A. Oliver, for 60 years, despite being just shy of her 20th (OK, 80th) birthday.
Her "Sweet 16" was memorable for all involved.
"She absolutely had a ball — danced around like a teenager and totally basked in the celebration," says Charles, the Erlanger rep.
Ward says that's how she plans to celebrate all her leap day birthdays. "I tell everyone when all my friends are pushing 100, I will be kicking my heels up at 25."
Contact Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6281.
10 places to celebrate leap day
Alas, we’ve found no kangaroos, but there are other ways to celebrate leap day in Chattanooga, including with cats, toads and ballerinas. Here are 10 suggestions.
1. Rock City
An obvious choice, since one of the main attractions here is Lover’s Leap. This prominent rock jutting from the side of Lookout Mountain gets its name from a Cherokee legend of two young lovers from feuding tribes: a brave named Sautee and a maiden named Nacoochee. According to the legend, Sautee was captured and thrown from the top of the rock. Nacoochee, distraught from the loss, jumped to her own death. 1400 Patten Road. www.seerockcity.com
2. Northgate Library
All ages can join the Leap Day Par-tay, scheduled 2:30-4:30 p.m. Feb. 29, but the games, crafts and snacks are especially designed for kids 5-12. 278 Northgate Mall Drive, chattlibrary.org
3. Hamilton Place
Chattanooga Ballet’s School Ensemble will offer a performance complete with leaps — “jetes” in ballet parlance — 1-1:30 p.m. Feb. 29 at the mall’s Center Court stage. The dancers will offer classical variations, an original ballet piece from Ensemble Director Nina Widtfeldt and a portion of the famous “Rodeo” inspired by dance legend Agnes DeMille. 1100 Hamilton Place Blvd. www.chattballet.org
4. Leapin’ Leprechaun
No need to wait until St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate at this aptly named Irish pub and eatery. Brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. 100 Market St., www.theleprechaunpub.com
5. Naughty Cat Cafe
Did you know cats can jump up to five or six times their own height? You can observe all sorts of cat behavior at Chattanooga’s first (and only) cat cafe. Content yourself with cuddling, or even adopt a favorite. Reservations are recommended: 423-413-4630. 3742 St. Elmo Ave., www.naughtycatcafe.com
Keep with the leaping theme with a stop for yogurt at SweetFROG. 2288-158 Gunbarrel Road, www.sweetfrog.com
7. Chattanooga Zoo
8. Reflection Riding
9. Tennessee Aquarium
Speaking of frogs, three of Chattanooga’s animal-centric attractions can provide a look at not just leaping amphibians, such as frogs and toads, but other wildlife with notable leaping abilities, including leopards, bobcats, servals, monkeys and rabbits. Chattanooga Zoo, 301 N. Holtzclaw Ave., www.chattzoo.org; Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, 400 Garden Road, www.reflectionriding.org; Tennessee Aquarium, 1 Broad St., www.tnaqua.org
10. Path of your choice
You can raise money for rare diseases by taking part in a virtual race of 2.29 miles. The race is in observance of leap day, another rare occurrence, but can be completed any time in 2020 in any way you choose — run, jog or walk on the road, on a trail, on a treadmill, at the gym or on a track. Because it’s virtual, you complete the race on your own and submit your time to receive a medal (two frogs playing leapfrog) and race bib. Cost is $22, and at least 15% of every registration will go to the National Organization for Rare Diseases. Sign up at www.virtualrunevents.com.