Diana Selken remembers her 21st birthday with a smile. On that day, she entered the liquor store with an air of confidence — she was finally old enough to buy alcohol for herself and her twin brother Dale.
She approached the counter with a bourbon bottle in one hand and proudly flashed her ID with the other.
The clerk snatched her ID, examined it for a moment and with a puzzled look on his face asked her, “Does Feb. 29 exist?”
It was Feb. 28, and for Diana, who was born on leap day 1952, it was the same old story. She had to explain that she was born on Feb. 29 and that her birthday only appeared on the calendar once every four years.
After a brief argument, she came out of the store triumphant.
Selken, a marketing consultant in Columbia who is celebrating her 52nd birthday today, and her twin brother, Dale Wimer, both still find themselves explaining the quirkiness of their birthday to others.
“People don’t understand,” said Wimer, who lives in Sedalia and is a supervisor for the Missouri Department of Education. “They have a multiplication problem.”
Selken and her brother are among the 200,000 Americans alive today who were born on Feb. 29 and feel linked by a sense of pride and uniqueness that casts them apart from others born on the 365-day Gregorian calendar.
There are 4.2 million people around the world born on leap day, according to the U.S. Census.
“We would like to meet people who have similar experiences to ours,” said Wimer, .
Because only 97 days out of 400 years are leap years, a person’s odds of being born on leap day is 1 in 1,506.
A leap year, also called a bissextile year, occurs every four years and adds an extra day to the Gregorian calendar to make up for a discrepancy in the Earth’s orbit around the sun. It occurs in years that are exactly divisible by four.
That discrepancy is because the Gregorian calendar is not truly accurate. The Earth actually takes 365.24 days to complete its orbit around the Sun. A full orbit takes one year. This means there is an extra quarter-day that is not measured. The leap year keeps the seasons in check, by adding the extra day for the missed time every four years.
Because of leap year, the appearance of the stars in the sky will eventually change. According to astronomer Richard Talcott in the October 2002 edition of Astronomy: “Instead of the seasons falling earlier as the centuries pass, it’s the stars that get out of whack. Over time, the stars we associate with a given season will change. “
Raenell Dawn, the cofounder of the Honor Society for Leap Year Day Babies, said people born on Feb. 29 share a common bond, and society should recognize the importance of that date by declaring it a world holiday.
She has written letters to more than five U.S. presidents urging them to recognize leap day as an official date in the government’s calendar.
People born on leap day in Columbia and Boone County said meeting other leap-day babies is a rare experience.
“When I was growing up, we’d celebrate one day in February and the other in March,” said Matt Burns, a customer service representative at Boone County National Bank who will be 28 today. “It was hard to understand for me. My mom would write the day in on the calendar.”
Burns said he has only met one person with his same birthday.
Helen Renner of Montgomery City waited more than 60 years to meet somebody who shared her leap-day birthday.
During a trip with her husband to Austria, she stunned an Englishman who was challenging others in a contest of strange birthdays, when she told him she was born on Feb. 29.
“We both were shocked,” said Renner who remained in touch with the man until he died several years ago.