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Published By Beth Lueders on February 28, 2017

If you have a leap year birthday, are you officially 15 instead of 60 or are you 20 instead of 80? With February 29 appearing on the calendar only every four years, what do you and other “leapers” or “leaplings” do when official documents do not recognize the actual date of your birth?

The History of Leap Year

The history of leap year traces to Roman emperor Julius Caesar and the astronomers of his day. At the time, the Roman calendar with 355 days a year did not match up with the solar year calendar’s additional 10¼ days. To help the lunar and solar annual calendars line up at 365 days, Caesar approved adding one intercalary day or leap day to the calendar every four years beginning in 45 B.C. The 365 days is the amount of time it takes for Earth to orbit the sun.

Over the centuries, certain cultures began to associate leap day as the only appropriate day every four years when a woman can extend a marriage proposal to her suitor. Irish legend reveals that fifth century nun St. Bridget of Kildare convinced St. Patrick of the need for women to pop the question to shy or uncertain single men. St. Patrick chose February 29 as the allowable date, which is also known as Bachelor’s Day.

Leap Year Traditions

Leap year tradition holds in many European countries that if a man refuses a woman’s leap day proposal, he must buy her 12 pairs of gloves to help hide her embarrassment of not wearing an engagement ring. In Ireland, the man who passes on a February 29 marriage proposal must give the disheartened woman a silk gown. In Greece, if you marry in a leap year, many predict the marriage is doomed for divorce.

Amid all the customs and folklore of leap year, some legal realities make a difference on whether you choose February 28 or March 1 as your common year date of birth. Individual countries set laws that specify when a person born on February 29 comes of legal age. New Zealand lists leapers’ official birthday as February 28 and the United Kingdom selects March 1. In the United States, some states won’t issue a leaper a driver’s license until March 1 and the same with serving alcohol to leap-year minors who swear on February 28 that they are already old enough. And when it comes to filling out personal registrations, many computer forms do not account for 2-29 as a valid date.

So what’s a leapling to do? Choose your common year birthday and check with government agencies on how they recognize leap day births. And if you ever feel left out, you can always join with other leapers in leap day clubs like the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. Plus, remember the bright side, when others your age turn 70, you’ll still be a youthful 17.

What is your upside to being born on a leap day?

An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.

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