Sixteen Candles

Sandy Haag will be celebrating her sweet 16, Jamiann Hasselquist is excited to hit the double digits and Laura Carrillo will reach the tender age of six. These women have jobs, families and one major thing in common — a leap day birthday.


Every four years, to keep up with the earth’s rotation around the sun, the Gregorian calendar adds a 29th day to February. Not many people are born on this day, but those who are have had some unique experiences over the years.

Carrillo said her mom wasn’t at all concerned about having a child born on Feb. 29.

“I think she was really excited about it,” said Carrillo, “I think she thought it was going to be really unique and fun.”

Carrillo herself doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

“The first time I started getting really excited was my sweet 16,” she said, of the birthday also considered her fourth by leap year standards, “I had a lot of people over singing karaoke.”

Though in her experience her birthday was sometimes forgotten, she usually had a celebration each year near the missing date. Since most people celebrate on the weekend nearest their birthdays, it didn’t seem like she was missing anything.

Hasselquist, on the other hand, felt it was strange not having her birth date come around each year.

“It was kind of like being in Limbo,” she said.

Up through middle school, Hasselquist would celebrate on Feb. 28th, but when she noticed a trend of receiving birthday wishes on both Feb. 28 and March 1, she began celebrating on both days.

“Even then, it didn’t feel like a birthday,” she admitted, “So an actual leap year, it feels special.”

Haag has enjoyed teasing her grandchildren by giving her age in leap years since they were young.

“My grandkids would think it was really funny when they were kids and I would tell them I was only 12 or 13 years old. They’d say “Nuh-uh grandma, you’re driving. You must be at least 16 to drive!””

Now that they are older, the joke doesn’t incite the laughter it once did, but she’s still found amusement in her unique birth date, though sometimes the humor doesn’t set in until a little after the fact.

For those with a leap year birthday, the date of birth on the license reads Feb. 29, but according to Haag, the expiration date on hers reads March 1, since the expiration year was not a leap year. She had just arrived at the first checkpoint for airport security when she was held up.

“The girl looked at it and called someone, she had me stand to the side like I was a criminal. The other person came and they called another person. They wouldn’t tell me what was going on.” Haag explained.

Her drivers license used to show a March 1 birthday, and apparently that may have made things a little quicker and easier. Once she got a chance to speak on her own behalf, it was resolved quickly.

“They asked if it was a fake because the birth date and expiration date didn’t match, “That’s wrong,” they said, and I said, “Leap year, hello!””

At that point, the TSA agents probably felt pretty silly and let her pass through, and she luckily did not miss her flight.

Unlike Carrillo, whose birthday was sometimes forgotten, or Hasselquist, who felt like she was in limbo, Haag said everyone remembered her birthday.

“I take the day before and the day after. I take two days,” She said, “and nobody ever left me out.”

While many women born the same year as Haag might be telling a little white lie about their age, she can be honest when she says, “It’s nice that I’m sweet 16 this year.”

Some celebrations are big and some are small. Carrillo plans to have dinner with her closest friends and boyfriend, with dessert of course. Hasselquist, who hopes to head to Juneau from Hoonah this year, has bigger hopes for her next leap year birthday.

“There’s a leap day festival in Anthony, Texas. It’s a four-day festival.”

Leaplings or leapers, as those with the Feb. 29 birth date are sometimes called, travel from across the world to Anthony for the festival, where there is food and balloon rides among other things, Hasselquist said.

Leap year isn’t special just for those who were born that day, though. There are people who marry on that day, and it is a folk tradition for the woman to propose to the man on leap day, Carrillo brought up.

Whatever Juneauites celebrate on Feb. 29, be it a birthday, an anniversary or somewhat unorthodoxly proposing to that special someone, appreciate the day that comes just every four years and don’t forget those birthdays.

• Contact Neighbors editor Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at


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