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Leap for joy! The creative ways NPR listeners are marking Feb. 29

Nearly 80 "leaplings" of all ages celebrated their leap day birthday on a Caribbean cruise in 2020. Organizers expect a similar turnout this year.
Jason Bohn
Nearly 80 "leaplings" of all ages celebrated their leap day birthday on a Caribbean cruise in 2020. Organizers expect a similar turnout this year.

Thursday is a leap day, the rare date of February 29 that's added to the calendar nearly every four years.

That means the roughly 5 million people worldwide born on that day — aka "leaplings" — will get to celebrate on their actual birthday. Others will spend it commemorating a leap day wedding, engagement or anniversary.

For many, Thursday may just be another day — but one they'd like to use wisely by doing something they love, taking time for themselves or giving back to others. That can take many forms.

"Think about that extra that you can give or that extra that you can do, and enjoy that bonus day that we only get once every four years," said Katheryn Jager, of Cedar Park, Texas.

Jager, 50, has big plans for the day: She and her fiancé are "taking the leap," getting married in their backyard surrounded by friends and family on the four-year anniversary of their first date.

She said their first date in 2020 wasn't specifically planned for leap day. It was just the day that the two of them — longtime friends who reunited after being divorced and widowed — happened to be free. The day now carries special significance, not to mention some perks.

"It has been fun to hear how many people have congratulated my fiancé on being so clever as to get an anniversary which only occurs once every four years," Jager said. "He very happily tells them we'll celebrate close to the day."

Katheryn Jager and Garrett Smith, pictured inside Honey Creek Cave in Texas in 2023. Jager says the two bonded over their love of outdoor adventures and will go caving immediately after their leap day wedding.
/ Katheryn Jager
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Katheryn Jager
Katheryn Jager and Garrett Smith, pictured inside Honey Creek Cave in Texas in 2023. Jager says the two bonded over their love of outdoor adventures and will go caving immediately after their leap day wedding.

Jager is one of the more than 100 respondents who answered NPR's callout asking how people plan to celebrate leap day this year. Their responses ranged from the elaborate to the everyday.

Several leap day babies and their family members said they'll be celebrating with birthday trips abroad — on a cruise, to a new continent or to a bucket list city. Others said they'll be enjoying leap day birthdays with parties at home, many inspired by the age they'll technically be turning.

"We are hosting an 8 year old party!" wrote Grace Boersma, who will be turning 32 by other calculations. "Going ice skating then heading back to a house for a 'Frozen Food Feast,' as 8-year olds love frozen foods (dino chicken nuggets, cheese sticks, fries, etc.). There is also a cocktail part as well for attendees to come up with a cocktail that an 8-year old would like (if they could drink)."

Several people are honoring late relatives born on the day by making family recipes or doing a good deed. Others are celebrating wedding anniversaries, some for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020.

Many will try to make the day special for their young children, like the parent who maintains a "leap year fund" to throw her daughter a big celebration every four years, and the family planning a "last first day" party to celebrate the final calendar date their baby has yet to experience.

And lots of people don't have personal ties to the day but still plan to take off work, catch up on chores or use it to enjoy some of their favorite activities, like thrifting, seeing a movie or clocking some extra miles on a run.

"Even the day I gave birth on Leap Day 2016 Facebook asked me 'Did you make the most of your extra day today?' Um, yes Facebook ... I birthed a baby," wrote Stephanie Vazquez. "I would encourage everyone to use that extra day for yourself somehow."

In case you need some inspiration, NPR's Morning Edition spoke to nearly a dozen people around the U.S. about how they're making the most out of leap day.

How to celebrate a leap year birthday

On the 2020 leap day cruise, people celebrated their birthday with a ball on board. Jason Bohn said many of them have kept in touch since.
/ Jason Bohn
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Jason Bohn
On the 2020 leap day cruise, people celebrated their birthday with a ball on board. Jason Bohn said many of them have kept in touch since.

Many people born on Feb. 29 told NPR that they have strong feelings about which day to celebrate in non-leap years.

Many prefer Feb. 28, reasoning that they were born on the last day of the month. Some go with March 1, since they were born the day after Feb. 28. Others claim both days, or they switch, depending on the year.

Jason Bohn, who is turning 11 (or 44) on Thursday, says that he's in the minority who celebrates on March 1 — and that it's a topic of heavy debate in the leap year community. He's especially plugged in, as a member of the leap day baby group on Facebook and one of the organizers behind the second consecutive leap day cruise.

Bohn was one of nearly 80 leaplings who took a four-day cruise to the Bahamas in 2020. Attendees ranged in age from 1 year old to their upper 70s, and they represented more than 30 states and 10 countries. They celebrated the actual leap day itself at sea with a leap day ball, swapping baby photos and getting to know each other.

"When we kind of came together, it was just like we were already family," Bohn said. "We got back home, and two weeks later the world shut down. And it was really comforting to have that group of people that we had met on the cruise. It was almost kind of a second family for a lot of us, and we've stayed in touch throughout the years."

Bohn says about a dozen of the original cruisers will be back this time around, joined by some 60 newcomers. He estimates that all told, leaplings and their families will make up some 250 passengers — "a little bit of a force on that ship."

The West Allis, Wis., resident is excited to get some sun and celebrate with other leaplings. He has helped plan activities — and matching lanyards — to help the group bond. Those include pre-cruise drinks in Miami and another Feb. 29 ball, which he described as the true highlight last time.

"It was just great to just have that time to kind of really focus on ourselves and the thing that makes us all a little more special than most," he added.

Other leap day babies celebrating on land told NPR that they will be spending time with their families, eating at their favorite restaurants, partying with friends and stocking up on freebies from businesses that do leap day giveaways with proof of a Feb. 29 birthday (or at least they did in 2020).

A great day to mark an anniversary or even get (re)married

Chris Goonan and his wife, Caroline, returned to the Florida beach where they got married on leap day 2020 — this time with their 1-year-old son.
/ Christopher Goonan
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Christopher Goonan
Chris Goonan and his wife, Caroline, returned to the Florida beach where they got married on leap day 2020 — this time with their 1-year-old son.

Several respondents said they'll be celebrating a wedding anniversary on Feb. 29, with a few even planning to get married — or remarried — on the day itself.

Chris Goonan, 33, says he and his wife, Caroline, will be celebrating their "first real wedding anniversary" since they got married in 2020.

They had a destination wedding at Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge, a historic site near Stuart, Fla., where Goonan had been stationed with the Coast Guard. They booked it because of the venue's availability, not the date itself.

"We knew that we wanted to do it in February because all of our family would be coming down from upstate New York," he explained. "And we saw that February 29th was available. It was a Saturday. We didn't even consider that it was a leap year, and we were like, 'Absolutely, we have to do it.'"

This year, the couple plans to travel from their home in Syracuse back to the same beach and eat at the restaurant that catered their wedding. And Goonan says it will be even more special this time, since they are bringing their 1-year-old son with them.

"This will be his first time down to Florida to see the ocean and actually touch the ocean," he said, adding they plan to repeat the tradition every leap year going forward.

Cindy and PJ Gaynard will be celebrating their fifth anniversary, 20 years after they got married.

They specifically wanted to get engaged and married on leap day, in part to buck the pressure they felt to celebrate every single anniversary of the day they met. They couldn't even remember the date, but they say it was July and not February.

"We're like, 'That's a lot of pressure.' So we were just like, 'Well, let's just do it every four years, and every four years we'll celebrate our anniversary really big,'" said Cindy.

They do so by holding vow renewal ceremonies every four years, or as they call it, "getting married again." The Gaynards, who now have two children, have picked a wide variety of themes and asked different friends to officiate each one.

Cindy and PJ Gaynard renew their vows every four years to celebrate their leap day wedding anniversary. Previous venues have included a planetarium, beach, Las Vegas chapel and roller-skating rink.
/ PJ and Cindy Gaynard
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PJ and Cindy Gaynard
Cindy and PJ Gaynard renew their vows every four years to celebrate their leap day wedding anniversary. Previous venues have included a planetarium, beach, Las Vegas chapel and roller-skating rink.

They first got married at a planetarium, underneath star charts representing their connecting trajectories. Their second "wedding" was officiated in Las Vegas close to midnight by an Elvis impersonator, whom they recall being visibly drained from doing weddings all day. The next leap year, they ate cupcakes on a beach in Malibu, Calif., near where they lived at the time.

Then the couple moved to Pittsburgh and celebrated their next anniversary "getting married" at a roller-skating rink while strapped into roller blades. Four years ago, after a snowstorm canceled their travel plans, they threw together a clown-themed wedding at a local "vegan restaurant-slash-vintage shop."

This year, they're hosting a screening of one of Cindy's favorite movies, Pretty in Pink, at PJ's film studio — with a surprise twist.

Cindy says she, like many people, has always hated the ending of the movie, in which Andie (Molly Ringwald) chooses rich-kid Blane (Andrew McCarthy) over lovable Duckie (Jon Cryer) at prom. It was actually shot the other way around at first, says PJ.

"We're going to stop the movie early, do the ending the way that was originally in the script and then get married as Andie and Duckie," he added.

There are plenty of other ways to make the day special

Rachel Nantt is throwing a 2020-themed party on leap day, and plans to dress up in the graduation cap and gown she didn't get to wear (or return) during the pandemic.
/ Rachel Nantt
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Rachel Nantt
Rachel Nantt is throwing a 2020-themed party on leap day, and plans to dress up in the graduation cap and gown she didn't get to wear (or return) during the pandemic.

Even if you're not celebrating a birthday or anniversary, or rewriting cinema history, there are still things you can do to make your bonus day a little extra special.

That could mean getting more done, from chores to socializing to sleeping in.

One respondent told NPR they're thankful for an extra day to pack up their apartment before their lease ends on March 1. Another says her family always goes out to eat at IHOP, citing her dad's love of puns.

It could also mean doing nothing at all.

"Why not make it a self-care, indulge care, hobby day," wrote Emeka Barclay. "For me, that feels like a day of no social media, no newsfeeds, no politics... I just know that whatever I do, it will be a free day for me."

Others are hosting parties to celebrate the day itself, like graduate student Jillian Winter. She said things can feel bleak and overwhelming, both for those finishing their PhDs and anyone following the news cycle, and she is eager to spread some good cheer.

"Obviously, there will be party games that involve leaping ... Candy will be tossed at people ... There will be a 'shrimp tree,' aka I'll decorate my ficus tree with shrimp ornaments (which will double as party favors)," she wrote. "Folks will share Leap Day secrets and offer up toasts for the bonus day ... Never forget, 'Real life is for March!'"

For Rachel Nantt and her friends, it will be a day of nostalgia, reflection, and sweatpants. The Fargo, N.D., resident is throwing a party with a 2020 theme — the updated version of the 2016-themed bash she attended four years ago.

The 27-year-old will don the college graduation gown she didn't get to wear during her COVID graduation. The group will play Among Us, the online game that kept many people connected during the early months of the pandemic.

Nantt says she has fielded plenty of jokes about the theme, including attendees saying they should dress up as someone who just got laid off. But she says it's uplifting to think about how far she and her friends have come since that difficult time.

"I feel like I've kind of taken life more by the horns and done what I wanted," she said, pointing to her career transition and new relationship. "And when I was 23, four years ago, I can't say that I was doing that. So I look back and I think, how amazing that I can just be happy and be truly who I am to this day."

And Nantt hopes others can find joy in the day too, even if it's just another Thursday.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.