February 28, 2008 — This Friday, University of Virginia second-year student Miriam Todras will celebrate her fifth birthday.
No, she's not a child prodigy who skipped 13 grades. Todras, of Richmond, Va., is one of just 11 U.Va. undergraduate students — out of 13,636 enrolled — who were born on Feb. 29, meaning that her birthday appears on the calendar only every four years. This Friday marks the fifth time in her life that she can blow out her candles on the actual date of her birth.
While having a birthday in leap years might seem unlucky, Todras said being a leap year baby has its advantages.
"It's nice because it makes you special and eternally youthful," Todras said. "I love it, because it makes 'ice breakers' easy. When you have to give a fun fact about yourself, it's an easy one to share. It's also nice because people go all out in celebrating your birthday on a leap year."
It's also an easy birthday for people to remember and a good conversation starter, according to second-year Sarah Zuckoff.
"Having a leap year birthday is actually not as bad as people assume when they first realize I only have one birthday every four years," said Zuckoff, of Moseley, Va. "Their first reaction is to feel sorry for me, but I would have to say I wouldn't trade it for another day of the year. … One great advantage of having a leap year birthday is that my friends and family never know which day to celebrate, Feb. 28 or March 1, so I always end up getting calls, and gifts, and birthday wishes both days."
Feb. 29 is added to the calendar every fourth year to correct the discrepancy between the calendar year and the solar year. While modern calendars have 365 days in a year, it actually takes 365 days and six hours for the earth to make a full revolution around the sun.
While Todras enjoys the novelty of her birthday, she did admit that being born on leap day has some disadvantages. For example, when she registers for online accounts she often gets an error message saying her birthday doesn't exist. She also pointed out that waiting four years to have an actual birthday can set a person up for disappointment.
"I try to make it as special as possible, but at the same time I sort of expect people to throw me a big party and realize that it's quadruple important as a normal birthday," Todras said. "I definitely build it up, since it comes so rarely, so I would say that I have high expectations every time the 29th comes along."
Second-year Katie Yankoski, from Yorktown, Va., lamented the fact her birthday is not on the calendar every year and the jokes made about her "age." You can only hear "You're so smart for a 4-year-old" or "Excuse her, she's only 4" so many times before wishing that your birthdate were on the calendar every year.
"It's annoying when you're told you're only 4, as amusing as it is, since I've really lived for 19 years," Yankoski said.
All leap year babies seem to have their own way of coping with their unusual birthdate. Second-year Kevin Eady, of Newport News, Va., gets the most out of his birthday in non-leap years by celebrating on both Feb. 28 and March 1 and by planning a large party when leap day rolls around. Second-year Piu Dey, from Fairfax, Va., said over the years she has changed the way she marks getting a year older.
"I used to celebrate it on Feb. 28, but then I realized that I'm not actually a year older until March 1, so I started celebrating it both days, or whichever day worked best for me," Dey said.
For some, the idea that their birthday just doesn't exist most years is an existential problem that's sometimes hard to comprehend.
"I love staying up until midnight on February 28th on a non-leap-year year and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that somewhere in the split second between the 28th and the 29th, there's a whole day — a birthday," Todras said.