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Willmar, Minn., women celebrate 'real' birthday this year on leap day

Jack Erickson, 14, left, a student at the Willmar Middle School, has already had two more birthdays than his mother, Tracey, whose birthday falls on leap day, Feb. 29. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 2
Danita Hansen, a leap day baby, will turn 40 this year -- or 10 in leap years. (Photo submitted by Danita Hansen)2 / 2

When you only have a birthday once every four years, you learn to make it count.

At least, that's the motto that Tracey Erickson, a leap day baby, has adopted. On Feb. 29, she'll turn 12 -- or, technically, 48.

A speech and language clinician at Willmar Middle School, Erickson finds it "amusing" that this year, she'll be turning the same age as many of her students.

"Obviously, they know that I'm not 12 years old," she said. "But they think it's funny. Everyone knows me as 'that teacher with the leap year birthday.'"

This year, 2012, is a leap year, meaning it has 366 days instead of 365 with the addition of Feb. 29, otherwise known as leap day. According to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, leap years generally occur every four years. However, a century year cannot be a leap year unless it is also divisible by 400. For example, 2000 was a leap year, but 1900 was not.

Leap years occur to synchronize the calendar year with the solar year, which is the time required for Earth to orbit around the sun, or about 365.25 days, according to the National Maritime Museum.

Leap day baby Danita Hansen of Atwater enjoys the uniqueness of being born on Feb. 29. This year, she'll turn 40, or 10 in leap years. It's a big birthday, she said, because it's the first "milestone" that she'll celebrate on her actual birthday.

"The next time I get a birthday on a milestone will be 80," Hansen said. "This year is special. My husband has planned a big party, and a lot of our friends and family will be there."

Hansen said that, growing up, her classmates would playfully tease her about not having a real birthday. It never really bothered her, however, because her Great Aunt Beulah had a birthday on Feb. 28 and would "share" her birthday, Hansen said.

"My great aunt and I are very close," Hansen said. "It was always really special to share that day with her, especially when I was younger. No matter what year it is, I have always felt that I get a birthday in a way because of her. On leap years, when I do actually get my own birthday, she always says, 'Oh shoot, I don't get to share with you this year.'"

Erickson, of Willmar, said there are some obvious perks that come with being a leap day baby, or a leapling, as some call it. When a leap year comes around, her family and friends make sure to acknowledge her birthday in a big way.

"You definitely get extra-special treatment every four years," Erickson said. "People remember your birthday. In a leap year, I'll start getting birthday cards in early February."

Hansen, who works at Rice Hospital, said her co-workers are planning a potluck for her birthday, which falls on Wednesday next week.

"My co-workers are all laughing because I'm only going to be 10," she said. "I actually feel kind of special. Not everyone gets a potluck at work. They understand that having a real birthday is a big deal."

Despite the special treatment, Erickson said that there are downsides to having a Feb. 29 birthday. For instance, most computer systems don't recognize Feb. 29 as an actual day, even in a leap year, she said. The Department of Motor Vehicles has even forgotten to send her reminders about her driver's license renewal.

"Their computers don't recognize my birthday, ever," she said. "I've actually missed the renewal date for my license a few times. They've always just taken care of it, though. It's never a big deal."

For both Erickson and Hansen, one of the major disadvantages to having a Feb. 29 birthday is the fact that they will never celebrate a golden birthday. To reach their 29th birthday in leap years, they would have to live to be 116 years old.

"I don't think that will happen," Hansen said, laughing. "That's probably the biggest bummer, knowing you'll never get a golden birthday."

Still, both women enjoy the novelty that comes with having a leap day birthday. After all, as Erickson points out, it isn't something that a lot of people can say they have.

So this year, she'll embrace the leap year and enjoy her "12th" birthday with family, friends and a gift any 12-year-old would want.

"I asked for an Xbox for my birthday," Erickson said. "My kids think it's really funny, but we'll all enjoy it together."

Fun facts about leap year

- The chances of being born on Feb. 29 are about 1 in 1,500

- There are 4 million people in the world with leap day birthdays

- The Egyptians were the first ones to add a leap day every four years, but the Romans were the first to designate that day in February

- If we did not have leap years, in one century, the difference between the solar year and the calendar year would become 25 days

- In most states during non-leap years, March 1 is the designated official birthday for leap day babies

- Presidential elections are held during leap years.

-- Information from

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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