Birthday boy marks 20th leap year

- Rudy A. Fernandez -

MANILA, Philippines - For only the 20th time since he was born 80 years ago, Nap Vergara observes his birthday this year at the exact date when he was born on Feb. 29.

A former UP Los Baños forestry professor who eventually retired as a specialist of the United Nations, Vergara is among the few individuals gals” who were born in a leap year, thus, the actual date of their natal day comes only once every four years.

On his 80th birthday, Pangasinan-born Vergara celebrated his natal day last Feb. 25 (a Saturday) in his town of residence in Los Baños, Laguna.

Vergara and his wife Angeles, four of their six children (two others working abroad could not make it), many grandchildren, and great grandchildren were on hand to welcome the invites from the UPLB community, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, to share with the celebrant the blessings of his 80 years.

At times in the past when it was not leap year, Vergara observed his birthday before Feb. 29.

In Nida Mangalindan’s case, when it is not a leap year, she celebrated her birthday “the day after” on March 1.

Looking for a “Leap Year baby” is like “searching for a needle in a haystack.”

Exact figures are hard to obtain, but there are rough estimates. Consider that there are four Filipinos born every minute, or 5,760 every day. This means that there are about 5,760 Filipinos born every Leap Year.

Interspersed in a population of about 96 million, Feb. 29 birthday celebrants, indeed, are just “a droplet in a bucket.”

In Los Baños, only Vergara and Mangalindan, an accountant, were born on Feb. 29.

Since childhood, they have been teased about their natal day.

But in Mangalindan’s case, her parents had entreated her to just “live with the reality of her birthday.”

Her officemates are more compassionate, jestingly telling her that being “only 12 years old” (actually now 48), she is “younger” than her oldest, a 22-year-old daughter, and 17-year-old son.

So why is there a leap year?

Information provided by Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) states that the solar year (the time required for Earth to travel once around the Sun) is 365.24219 days.

The calendar year is either 365 days in a non-leap year or 366 days in a leap year.

The Romans originally had a 355-day calendar. To keep up with the seasons, an extra 22 or 23-day month was inserted every second year. For reasons unknown, this extra month was only observed now and then.

During the reign of Julius Caesar, the Romans saw the seasons no longer occurred at the same calendar periods as history had shown.

To correct this, Caesar deducted several days from several months, his month included, which was Quintilis, later renamed Julius, now known as July.

This extended the calendar to 365 days. Also intended was an extra calendar day every fourth year, following the 29th day of Februarius.

After Caesar’s death in 44 B.C., however, the calendars were written with an extra day every three years instead of every four until corrected in 8 A.D. So again, the calendar drifted away from the seasons.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII had recognized that Easter would become closer and closer to Christmas. The calendar was reformed so that a leap day could occur in any year that is divisible by 4 days but not divisible by 100 except when the year is divisible by 400.

Thus, 1600 and 2000, although century marks, have a leap day.

“The calendar we use today, known as the Gregorian calendar, makes our year 365.2425 days only off from our solar year by .00031, which amounts to only one day’s error after 4,000 years,” the RGO pointed out.

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