Leapling celebrates 6th... er... 24th birthday on Feb. 29

Justine Toñacao, a leapling, celebrates his 24th birthday on Feb. 29, 2024. /
Justine Toñacao, a leapling, celebrates his 24th birthday on Feb. 29, 2024. / CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

JUSTINE Toñacao would have been only six years old on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024 — a six-year-old preparing for a board examination for medical technology in Manila.

Toñacao’s “technical” age would be that of a child if he chooses not to celebrate his birthday on either Feb. 28 or March 1 in non-leap years.

He actually turned 24 last Thursday, the leap day.

Individuals born on a leap day have a unique identity as their birth date occurs nearly every four years.

Born on Feb. 29, 2000, Toñacao said he doesn’t feel like celebrating his birthday in non-leap years — Feb. 28 seems too early, and March 1 too late, he said.

But the leapling (the term for people born on a leap day) from Medellin, Cebu still celebrates his birthday in non-leap years, usually on March 1.

“A simple dinner with friends or family is how I usually celebrate my non-leap year birthdays,” Toñacao said in an interview Wednesday.

In a leap year, though, Toñacao said his birthday calls for “a better celebration.”

“Aside from finally getting a real birthday, it’s also the year of the dragon since I was born in 2000,” he said.

In the Chinese lunar calendar, 2000 was the year of the metal dragon, while 2024 is the year of the wood dragon.

“That makes this a potentially promising year,” Toñacao said.

However, last Thursday, Toñacao’s birthday was subdued as he was far from his family while preparing for a major examination for his professional life.

“I’m away from my friends and family. I’m surrounded by review handouts instead. But it’s all for the best,” he said.

Why there is a leap year?

Leap year exists, in large part, to keep the months in sync with annual events, including equinoxes and solstices, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. It’s a correction to counter the fact that Earth’s orbit isn’t precisely 365 days a year. The trip takes about six hours longer than that, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration says.

Contrary to what some might believe, however, not every four years is a leaper. Adding a leap day every four years would make the calendar longer by more than 44 minutes, according to the National Air and Space Museum.

Pope Gregory XIII, the brains behind the Gregorian calendar that is still used today, decreed that years divisible by 100 not follow the four-year leap day rule unless they are also divisible by 400, the JPL notes. In the past 500 years, there was no leap day in 1700, 1800 and 1900, but 2000 had one. In the next 500 years, if the practice is followed, there will be no leap day in 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500. The calendar was implemented in 1582.

The next leap years are 2028, 2032 and 2036.


Toñacao said he enjoys joking about his age and birthday. He likes to surprise people when they ask about his age, noting that it’s rare to meet someone born on a leap year.

As he is still six years old in leap year terms, he said he has 12 more leap years before he can legally drink. The legal drinking age in the Philippines is 18 years old.

“Telling people how young I am never gets old,” Toñacao said. / RJM, AP


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