Leap day birthdays: How people born on February 29 make their celebration extra special

Leapers, plus their parents and partners, discuss the experience of being born on this rare date

Leap baby Isla Armstrong's first leap birthday. Photo: Colin Armstrong
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Everybody thinks their birthday is special. After all, it only comes around once a year. Unless you are a “leaper” of course.

The term refers to people born on February 29, also known as leap day – the extra day added to the Gregorian calendar on leap years. Every four years (2024 included), the children, family and friends of leapers celebrate their birthdays in style.

While having such a rare date of birth – the chances are one in 1,461, so less than 0.07 per cent of the world’s population – has its perks, there are also some struggles.

Birthing a leap day baby

“I heard a ‘pop’ in the restaurant, but I didn't think much of it,” Kaya Scott recalls of going into labour with her second child 12 years ago. What started as a final date night before baby arrived, ended with Kaya and her partner having to leave Dubai restaurant Zuma mid-meal, their leap day newborn, Arthur, arriving a few hours later.

“Arthur was actually two weeks early,” says Kaya. “My mum was visiting and she said to me: ‘Wouldn't it be funny if your baby was born today?’.”

At the time, she didn’t think it would be “funny” at all, envisioning that a once-in-four-years birthday might not be all that enjoyable for a child.

My 10th and 40th birthdays falling together on a leap year was a great combination
Kerry Nagle, 44, leaper day baby

While logistically it can be difficult, especially when children are young, the mum of three does express something special about parenting a leaper. “I don't know whether we've treated him differently because he has this special birthday, but he's very individual, very quirky. He suits being a leap year baby,” the content creator and editor says.

Leaper-dad Colin Armstrong, however, had a much better idea of what to expect. In an even rarer birth situation, four years ago his wife Ali Armstrong gave birth to Isla in Abu Dhabi on February 29 – which also happens to be mum Ali’s birthday, too.

The couple spoke to The National about the novel coincidence four years ago, but how is life as a parent and partner to a leaper now?

“Even four years on, people seem a bit shocked and amazed that Ali’s birthday is on February 29 – and she’s in her 30s now,” says Colin, a journalist from Abu Dhabi. “I’m sure Isla will deal with the same attention growing up, and even more when people find out it is her mum’s birthday too.

“It’s nice that their birthdays hold a little extra meaning and significance on the years when they actually celebrate on the day.”

Splashing out on celebrations

For Isla’s first birthday, the Armstrongs have planned a small party in the park “decked out in unicorn decoration, as per her request”.

While Isla usually marks her birthday on March 1 and Ali on February 28, Isla is stealing the limelight with her first “real” birthday this year.

While Arthur is celebrating his “third” leap birthday this year, his second was cancelled due to the Covid19 pandemic (after initially being delayed due to bad weather), and he can’t recall his first in detail. That means he is feeling the pressure trying to plan his extra-special birthday this year.

“He’s feeling quite flustered with it as he wants it to be perfect,” adds mum Kaya. Go-karting with friends is on the cards, but the family have also pencilled in a meal at the restaurant where Arthur was almost born 12 years ago.

When it comes to making sure one's leap day birthday is extra special, Kerry Nagle, 44, knows a thing or two. Coming up to her '11th' leap day birthday, she says: “I make sure I have plans that are memorable on leap years.”

Let them know they’re special to you and that they deserve being celebrated
Colin Armstrong, husband and dad to leapers

Kerry has adopted a fun trend of planning a party that aligns more with her leap birthday than her actual age, from roller-skating discos to cartoon-themed dos. Her most memorable, she says, was having “a milestone leap birthday and a living years one; that is the best. My 10th and my 40th falling together on a leap year was a great combination!”

Learning to love their special birthday

Kerry fully embraces her special birthday now, yet she recalls it wasn't all plain sailing from a child's perspective. She recalls once crying to her mum that she was “never born” after a teacher didn’t put her birthday on a school calendar and friends forgot to wish her a happy birthday.

At other times, partners have initially been confused as to when and how to mark the day, and even security has cut up her ID thinking it was fraudulent.

But now, Kerry takes great pride in being a leaper. So much so that she has written a children's book dedicated to the generations of February 29 birthdays behind her.

“When I searched for leap year books, I was surprised at the lack of supply out there,” she says. “I want all children to know they are loved and special, no matter when their birthday falls on the calendar.”

The Girl With Two Birthdays is based on Kerry's childhood and tells the story of a little girl called Lily who gets two fun-packed birthdays with friends and family as she celebrates her unique day. “It’s a message to all children about loving their rare attributes.”

It’s a message that would be well received by parents, too. While the Armstrongs' daughter is too young to fully understand – “as long as she gets to eat cake and dress up fancy she’s so happy” – Kaya remembers how Arthur initially struggled with his February 29 arrival into the world.

“I don't think he loves having a birthday only once every four years.” she says. “Now he's getting older, he doesn't really get where he fits in with his whole birthday thing.” His family ensure they make the occasion extra special, but that comes with an added layer of pressure.

If Kerry is anything to go by, it is one of those things you embrace as the years go on. “I love having a memorable and rare day,” she confirms. “It’s a great icebreaker and conversation starter.”

With both a wife and daughter who share a February 29 birthday, Colin's simple advice may be the most affecting: Let them know they’re special to you and that they deserve being celebrated, have fun with it and be grateful for having a healthy, happy family.

Updated: February 28, 2024, 9:32 AM