Soon, Ja Rule, the American rapper and actor, will celebrate his ninth birthday, the French film actress Michèle Morgan will be a sprightly 23 and the Russian cross-country skier Raisa Petrovna Smetanina (ok, bit obscure) will officially be 15.
No, they aren’t all ridiculously prodigious overachievers – although it can be argued that the serial killer Aileen Wuornos (immortalized by Charlize Theron in the Oscar-winning film Monster), who was executed in 2002 aged 11, had a good go – they all have the misfortune of being born on the 29th February.
I’ve always felt sorry for folk born on this day, known as leapers (the similarity to lepers really can’t be that coincidental). Many a year must pass by when that sense of excitement creeps up on 28th February only for it to be dashed by the all-too-immediate advent of 1st March. A MEC colleague told me of a German friend, cursed with a 29th February birthday, whose ex-husband was born on 1st March. Apparently it’s bad luck to celebrate your birthday the day before the event in Germany, so this lady, in efforts not to even acknowledge her former partner’s special day, opts for very quick hugs with loved ones at midnight and then promptly ignores the whole sorry business! I hope she has a ball, this year.
When turning our minds to traditions, one of the best-known is that women are able (!) to ask their partners to marry them on 29th February. This applies in several countries but, in the US, this more generously extends to the whole year. But in the 21st century, when females are sufficiently capable of deciding when the time is right and articulating their proposal as well as a man (thank you very much!), surely we should be setting some new traditions for 29th February.
Perhaps it would be more fun to mark the day by turning something less sexist on its head and swapping jobs with our best friends or spouses. More simply, we could all wear yellow to encourage the coming spring. Or how about we all do something that scares us? Apparently it’s something we should all be doing every day of our lives according to Mary Schmich (falsely attributed to the sci-fi author Kurt Vonnegut and weaved into song by Baz Lurhmann in ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’). Carpe diem!
With that in mind, you could take the opportunity on this unique day to create a lesson your students will never forget. You could go al fresco and take your students on a cultural excursion or send them on a treasure hunt. If you are limited to the four walls of your classroom, how about decorating them with a display (on alternative ideas of how to mark 29th February, perhaps)? Or, you could just do something completely different to the norm by introducing role-play, incorporating props or even letting one of your pupils play the teacher!
However you decide to spend the rarest of days, here’s a passing thought. In Finland, the tradition is that if a man refuses a woman’s proposal on 29th February, he should buy her the fabrics for a skirt. So, ladies of Helsinki, choose your victim wisely; you’ll most likely have the last laugh.