When Alexandria resident Allison Dinsmore celebrates her 11th birthday on Monday, she will do so along with some 200,000 Americans whose birthday falls only once every four years. She says she makes do.
“I miss kind of having the one actual day most years, but it gives me something to talk about,” she says.
Feb. 29, or Leap Year Day, this year also falls in the Hebrew calendar’s leap month, called Adar 1, which adds 30 days to Jewish the year.
Like many with the elusive Feb. 29 birthday, Dinsmore, who is otherwise turning 44, normally celebrates on Feb. 28. Lila Levine, on the other hand, celebrates on March 1. This year, Lila will be celebrating her first Feb. 29 birthday; she was born in 2012.
Lila’s mother, Dahlia, a member of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, said Lila will have a bowling party with her preschool friends.
“We always said when she was born, every four years when she had her actual birthday, she would have a really big birthday,” Dahlia Levine said.
She said the family normally celebrates Lila’s birthday on March 1 rather than Feb. 28 because that is when she will reach certain legal milestones.
“She won’t be able to drive a car on Feb 28, she won’t be able to vote on Feb. 28 — so that’s why we celebrate on March. 1,” she said.
Levine said she has tried to explain the idea of leap year to her daughter, but she is too young to understand.
Leap year-born Chicago attorney Ilya Lipkind, 31, also marks his birthday on March 1. He said his eighth, 12th and 16th birthdays were a big deal, but that the magic of leap years has since faded.
“It was ingrained in me by my dad that it’s bad luck for me to celebrate on my birthday,” he said.
“By the time you’re 32, there are other holidays that are more important.”
He added that having a highly unusual birthday is a good topic for small talk at parties.
“If anything it’s been a nice benefit just for the oddity factor and it always makes for good conversation,” he said.
Unlike the quadrennial leap day on the secular calendar, the Jewish leap month is added to the Hebrew calendar seven times in 19 years.
A 13th month is added to align the calendar. In the Hebrew calendar, the months follow the cycles of the moon, but the year requires festivals to fall in their proper seasons, said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland.
“That’s why every Jewish holiday never comes on time,” he said. “It’s either early or it’s late because people are thinking along the solar cycle.”
Kaplan said the Hebrew calendar follows ancient formulas introduced by rabbis more than 2,000 years ago.
“The Torah commands us to ensure that Passover should be in its proper time of spring, so the Torah is telling us we have to maintain a balance between the lunar and solar cycle,” he said.
Kaplan added that the two Adars are seen as “60 days of good omens.”
Purim will be celebrated on the 14th of Adar II, which begins at sunset on March 23. And an additional Purim, called Purim Katan, or “small Purim,” is celebrated on the 14th of Adar I, which this year fell on
Feb. 23. This holiday is minor compared to Purim, but still involves some of the same rituals.
On Purim Katan, Kaplan said, “We don’t read the Megillah and we don’t say certain prayers, but a l’chaim never hurts.”