For many of us, it's just an occasional odd blip on the calendar, an extra day of winter, another icy brick on the long road to spring.
The reason for today, Feb. 29, also known as Leap Day, is simple: It keeps the calendar in line with the actual passage of time. Instead of adding one-quarter day every year to keep up with Earth's orbit around the sun, we add a full day every fourth year. The scientists say that over time, it ensures that we avoid June snowstorms.
But for some, Leap Day is more than mere science. It's a day that sets one apart, whether by chance or choice. If it is a birth date, it makes an individual part of a tiny statistical community -- one in 1,461, or 0.07 percent of the general population. If it's a couple's wedding day, they can pretend they are bending time: still newlyweds after four years together.
Here are four portraits of Leap Day people:
Bryce Bush, Pasadena
Born Feb. 29, 2000
If Bryce Bush had arrived on schedule, he'd be just another March 4th baby. But last Leap Year, he was four days early, so he and his mother, Sharolyn Bush, made the papers. The Bushes have learned that Leap Day birthdays can pose problems. For instance, when Bryce's grandmother sent away for a personalized birthday book for him, the company kept sending books for Feb. 28. It took three tries to get the right book. Of course, this is also the first year that Bryce can celebrate his actual birthday, rather than using March 1 as a substitute. The Bush family is going bowling and then to dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. When Bryce turned 1, "we had frogs on his cake," Sharolyn says, to keep with the leap theme. But "this year, he wants Spiderman."
Emma Fedorchak, Essex
Born Feb. 29, 1916
She is, quite possibly, the oldest leaper in Maryland. But the way she sees it, Emma Fedorchak will be 22 today, just one year older than her 21-year-old granddaughter. As a Leap Day veteran, Fedorchak has a few trappings of the day: a baby doll with the number 29 for its eyes, for example, and membership in the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. But her daughter, Deb Liberatore, signed her up for that, she says. Deb, in fact, is more interested in her unique birthday than she is. After 88 years, she says, "It's just another day."
Danny Gerson, Silver Spring
Born Feb. 29, 1996
Teri Gerson, Danny's mother, thinks it's not so bad to have a Leap Day birthday. Every four years, she says, "Danny's guaranteed to have a big bash." For today's bash, the Gersons have hired a ventriloquist and a magician, and invited family and friends of Danny's at Crest Haven Elementary School. "I invited my whole class," says Danny, who's become a member of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. "Even my teacher." The theme, not surprisingly, is frogs. Guests can fill up on green punch and chicken wings "that we're passing off as frog legs," Teri says.
Daryl and Natalie Sirota, West Friendship
Married Feb. 29, 2000
She and husband Daryl knew exactly what they were doing when they got married on Leap Day 2000, Natalie Sirota says. "We have such a unique family, so we thought Leap Day was the perfect day to get married." The pair, each with children from previous marriages, met at a Straight Spouse Support Group meeting. After they'd been together for a while, Natalie proposed, and Daryl said yes. On the big day, they rented a limousine and married in a civil ceremony. Then they broke the news to their seven children, and took everyone out to dinner. Natalie says she enjoys having the odd day as her anniversary: "Because it comes every one in four years, there's a better chance you'll get lucky and he'll remember," she jokes. This year, the Sirotas will celebrate more than their first official anniversary. The family was just approved to travel to Ukraine to adopt another child. "An early anniversary present," Sirota says.