Leap Day, a day added once every four years to help keep the annual calendar and seasons aligned, occurs on Feb. 29. For some members of the community, it’s more than just a day to keep things on track, it’s perhaps the most important day of their lives, their birthday. This year, a number of local residents will get to celebrate their special day on their date of birth, before losing it again for another four years.
Marissa Bates, a lifelong resident of Watertown, has a special birthday this Leap Year. Although she may only be 4 in terms of how many “official” birthdays she’s had, she will be celebrating her Sweet 16.
“This year is kind of exciting,” said Marissa’s mother Tammy Bates, “Sweet 16, driver’s license not far off and a Leap Year.”
For Marissa, she used to think of the birthday as a misfortune. Not anymore.
“She used to not like having her birthday on Leap Day, but now she thinks it’s kind of neat,” Tammy said. “I think most people forget that there is a leap year every four years or what it would mean to celebrate your birthday that day.”
Marissa was not expected to be a Leap Day baby. Her due date was Feb. 25, but a jinx by her mother may have delayed her arrival.
“I did not want a leap day baby and mentioned it to my midwife, but that’s what you get for mentioning it,” Tammy said. “Now, I think it fits her, She’s pretty unique and so is her birthday.”
For family and friends of Marissa, Leap Years more than an added day on the calander.
“I think that anytime anyone mentions leap year, my family would tell you that it is Marissa’s birthday, kind of what people who know her associate it with now,” Tammy said.
Former Watertown resident Emilie Hoeft also celebrates her birthday on Leap Day.
The 32-year-old (or 8-year-old depending on how you look at it), who was born and raised in Watertown, now lives in China after moving there this past summer and although she is an adult, she feels she still needs to celebrate her birthdays to the fullest.
“I feel that as people get older, they celebrate their own birthdays less but when your birthday only comes around every four years, I feel the need to celebrate my birthday even more as an adult,” Hoeft said.
Hoeft said having her birthday on a Leap Year is a pretty special thing and even though she just goes about her day, her family and friends go above and beyond to make it special for her. The family may be extra nice on Leap Day, but they will still give her some grief when her birthday doesn’t occur.
“On years that it’s not a leap year, I celebrate my birthday on the 28th and not March 1st because my birthday isn’t in March. My family and friends say but the 28th isn’t your actual birthday—so I usually get ‘Happy sort of birthday!’”
Hoeft said with her special birthday she does miss out on some of the more memorable milestones, turning 18 and 21 on March 1, not technically getting a golden birthday (since she’d have to be 116 to celebrate that day officially), however she still has a favorite celebration.
“My favorite birthday memory is from when I turned 16 (4 in leap years) when I went on a school marine biology trip to Florida. It was an amazing day of snorkeling and being on the beach with an amazing group of people.” Hoeft said. “That night they bought out a cake, key lime pie and lots of cards. I remember my cake had one of those miniature VW Beetles on it—which I still have along with every birthday card. While in the states on my birthday I usually look at my card box on my birthday, and I enjoy re-reading all my cards.”
For Hoeft, telling people she was born on Feb. 29 makes for some entertaining interactions.
“It’s kind of a funny thing because I sort of get embarrassed about telling people when my birthday is because when I say Feb. 29 there is either one of two reactions: people don’t have a reaction because they think nothing of it, which is great,” Hoeft said. “And the other is that they get really excited and ask all the questions and usually say, ‘Really? I’ve never met someone that was born on a leap year before’ which is funny to me.”
Hoeft said she had a trip planned for her birthday, but that will happen later this year. As far as on her birthday, she plans to spend it not cooking, but eating a slice of cake.
Leap Day is also the birthday for Beaver Dam resident Donna Higgins.
Born at the old hospital in Watertown in 1964, Higgins lived in the city until 2000 when she moved to Beaver Dam. The 56-year-old (or 14-year-old) Higgins will have a lowkey celebration for her birthday with her husband taking her out for prime rib, which is her favorite.
Typically, every four years her and members of her family would go out to Watertown Bowl for a party, but with her father celebrating his 90th birthday in April, they are going to celebrate it then.
Higgins has had a couple of notable celebrations for her birthday.
“I hoped my nephew was going to be born on my birthday (one year), but he was born on the first (of March),” Higgins said. “Another year, I had all my kids together and they came back to celebrate.”
For Higgins, interesting birthdays run in the family, so she sees herself as different.
“I see it being unique. I’m different from anybody else,” Higgins said. “My sister was born on Christmas and I had a Halloween baby. All the holidays I got. It’s different and I try to be unique and different.”
Next time you go to blow out your candles on your birthday, be sure to take a moment to think about those who have to wait patiently to turn one year older — for four years.