If asked how old he is today, Samuel Sanderson might tell you he's four, but he wouldn't necessarily be wrong if he were to say one.
That's because Samuel, son of Petrolia residents Ryan and Jackie Sanderson, was born in the early morning hours of February 29, 2008, the last leap day.
Young Mr. Sanderson is rare but hardly unique; there are millions around the world who wait those four years to celebrate their Feb. 29 birthday—making the chances of being a leap year baby just 1 in 1,461.
Samuel is one of only about 20,000 Canadians to share his birthday and some 5 million worldwide.
His Dad, Ryan, a welder with St. Clair Mechanical in Brigden, said while the family normally marks Samuel's birthday on Feb. 28, today's was an extra special celebration.
"He was really excited this morning when he woke up," he said.
Being a leap year baby wasn't a sure thing for Samuel, however. The doctor had told his mother, Jackie, that her due date was Feb. 27, and it was only at 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 28 that the very real possibility of a leap year birth began to sink in.
The next morning, at 4:50, Samuel arrived, weighing seven pounds, seven ounces.
"Skipping" birthdays has never been a point of sibling ribbing, says Dad Ryan, who says the brothers (and now a baby sister, Lyla, all get along.
Today's calendar is closely based on the Julian calendar, which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. The Julian calendar featured a 12-month, 365-day year, with an extra day inserted every fourth year at the end of February to make an average year of 365.25 days.
That meant, compared with the solar year, the Julian year was too long by .0078 days (11 minutes 14 seconds).
Over the course of a few centuries those minutes added up, so much so that by the 16th century, the vernal equinox was falling around March 11 instead of March 21.
In 1852, Pope Gregory XIII "adjusted" the calendar, moving the date ahead by 11 days and instituting the exception to the rule for leap years. This new rule, whereby a century year is a leap year only if divisible by 400, is the sole feature that distinguishes the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar.
After Pope Gregory XIII's reforms, the average length of the year was 365.2425 days, an even closer approximation to the solar year. At this rate, it will take more than 3,000 years for the Gregorian calendar to gain one extra day in error.
On non-leap years, many leapers celebrate their birthday on Feb. 28, the last day of February, because that’s when they were born. Some celebrate on Mar. 1, and others choose to celebrate on the closest Saturday or Sunday.
For the Petrolia Sandersons the celebration of Samuel's first leap year birthday was at home with family and friends.
—Joe Burd, [email protected]