Friday is Feb. 29, the once-every-four-year calendar add-on that keeps the seasons aligned and people born on that day perpetually young.
It fits the kind of weather we’ve endured this month, but by any measure of justice, order and mercy, today should have been the last day of February.
Welcome to Feb. 29.
"You wouldn’t think it was a good idea to tack on the extra day in February," said Linda French, a physics professor and astronomer at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. "It just feels like an extra day of lousy weather."
Friday is Leap Day, the once-every-four-year calendar add-on that keeps the seasons happening in the months we expect them to, and keeps perpetually young those people who were born on the day. Sort of like reverse dog years, people born on Feb. 29 like to trick themselves into believing they age just one year while everyone else ages four.
Leonard Domke, of Springfield, has only experienced 23 birthday celebrations on the actual calendar date he was born. He turns 92 today.
"A few months ago I was in a hospital to sign up for medicine," Domke said in an e-mail message. "The clerk asked my birth date. When I told her, she said ‘Oh, you mean February 28,’ I said, ‘No, February 29.’ I was a little put out with her since she acted like she was just humoring me."
It’s the kind of behavior that led Raenell Dawn, of Keizer, Oregon to found in 1988, what would become the 7,100-member Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. She might be the closest this country has come to producing an activist Leaper (it’s what people born on Feb. 29 call themselves).
"There are still states that are not Leap Day friendly that insist that Leapers choose either Feb. 28 or March 1 as a birthday on their driver’s license because computers can’t handle the aberration," Dawn said. "That’s outrageous. It’s just another form of identity theft. There’ve been leap days since 4,600 B.C. and it makes me angry and uptight that problems still exist in 2008."
In Illinois, motorists can have Feb. 29 as a date of birth on their license, but if it expires in a non-Leap Year, the expiration date reads Feb. 28, according to a Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman. That technically cheats the Leaper out of one day of a valid license.
Dawn, who celebrates her 12th Leap Day Birthday today at age 48, is also committed to forcing calendar makers to include the words "Leap Day" in the February 29 square every four years. Not many do.
"In second grade my teacher asked if anyone in the class had a Leap Day birthday. I raised my hand and she said ‘Oh, you poor child,’ "Dawn said. "I still remember that. I’m not seeking therapy because of it, but people don’t understand what it’s like to have a year where your birth date is not on the calendar. Only other Leapers understand."
Leap Day is not some arbitrary attachment designed to mess up people’s birthdays and drivers licenses. It’s added once every four years because it takes a fraction more than 365 days for Earth to orbit the sun, it takes 365.24222 days. The added day every four years takes care of all of those numbers to the right of the decimal.
"It’s a big inconvenience, really, that no astronomical events happen commensurate with each other," Professor French said. "We stick in an extra day to balance the books, keep everything in line."
Lizz Dietrich, a 2002 Illinois State University graduate from Skokie, who stayed to live in Bloomington, is planning a major birthday party for Friday night.
"I love being a Leap Day baby. It has been a blast. We had a party every year, but had a blow-it-out, invite-everybody party on Leap Day," she said.
Tonight’s bash will have a tropical theme. She’s turning up the heat in the house and encouraging guests to wear T-shirts, shorts and sandals.
"Everybody’s sick of the winter," Dietrich said.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at (309) 686-3244 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.