Travel

For Leap Year Babies Around the World, 2024 Is Party Time

From cruises to festivals, this year is abounding in celebrations for the community of "Leap Day Babies."

Town of Anthony, Texas
Town of Anthony, Texas
Town of Anthony, Texas

Raenell Dawn suffers from what she’s coined EBS, or “Empty Box Syndrome”-that is, the pain of having a birthday you can’t mark on a calendar square. The chances that someone is born on February 29 is 1 in 1,461, and with that rare distinction can come feelings of isolation, as well as more quotidian struggles. But Dawn also sees her situation as providing balance and harmony. “It’s the date that keeps all the other dates in line with the seasons,” she says. “It’s because of my birthday that your birthday happens in the same season every year.”

It takes planet Earth just slightly more than 365 days to orbit the sun, and that extra 6 hours or so needs to be accounted for in the Gregorian calendar. A single leap day in February makes up for those missed quarter days of the last four years, allowing for equinoxes and solstices to stay aligned with the seasons. During non-leap years, Leap Day Babies like Dawn tend to celebrate their birthdays on either February 28 or March 1. “I do both,” she jokes. “Because I can.”

In 1988, Dawn set up a birthday club called “Leap Year Babies Limited, The Limited Edition to the Human Race.” She contacted as many radio stations as she could in her hometown of Los Angeles, sat down for a few interviews, and invited Leap Day Babies to come to her house for a communal birthday party. Four people showed up that year-a symbolic number, she noted-though the club would eventually grow to include more than 12,000 members in 126 countries.

Leap Year Capital of the World
Leap Year Capital of the World
Leap Year Capital of the World

There exists a kind of poetic camaraderie among the Leap Day Baby community. For one, they’ve developed their own patois. A leapling is a newborn Leap Day Baby; Leapest Regards, is like “Deepest Regards,” but deeper; Leapification is the process by which someone or something is made aware of the importance of Leap Day. But as is the case in any group, there is a hierarchy. Leap year babies-those who were born at any time during a historic leap year-are an entirely different category.

And then there’s a sense of shared suffering. “One of the members of the club says at midnight [on February 28] he jumps up, and when he lands, says that was his birthday, while he was up in the air,” Dawn says. “There are Leap Day Babies with horrifying stories about their parents saying things like, ‘If you don’t clean your room, I’m taking your birthday off the calendar.’ And they show the kids the calendar next year saying, ‘Look, birthday’s gone.'” Some members have reported doctors illegally changing their birthdays to February 28 or March 1, to save them the inevitable hassle.

Dawn’s club, which is now labeled the “Honor Society of Leap Day Babies” and operates mostly on Facebook, tries to focus on the positive. It’s composed of members who are eager to plan meet-ups around the world. “Hi fellow Leap Year Day babies,” one post reads. “Our birthday is getting closer and I am looking for fellow leaplings to spend our special day with.” They were looking for someone near Hermiston, Oregon, though they would have also had their choice of events taking place in both Disneys, Vegas, and New York City (not to mention Australia, Europe, the UK, and Canada.)

But perhaps the most important meeting place for Leap Day babies around the world is Anthony, Texas. The little town, which sits on the border of Texas and New Mexico, is regarded as the “Leap Year Capital of the World” for no real reason, other than the fact that Anthony resident and a Leap Day Baby named Mary Ann Brown thought it was a good idea and asked.

Leap Year Capital of the World
Leap Year Capital of the World
Leap Year Capital of the World

In 1988, Brown and her neighbor, Birdie Lewis, also a Leap Day Baby by miraculous fate, approached the Chamber of Commerce with the idea of a leap year festival to give the town local recognition and drive revenue. Perhaps because it had not yet been claimed, the governors of both New Mexico and Texas thought, Why not? and gave the town its current title. Pete Domenici, senator of New Mexico at the time, entered the request into the Congressional Record of the United States, whereby Congress and the president joined in on the proclamation.

The historic Worldwide Leap Year Festival drew in visitors from around the world who came to take in parades, birthday dinners, and even hot air balloon rides. Rockstar Graham Nash paid the town a visit in 2000, with his Leap Day Baby wife, Susan, and performed a concert for all attendees. For reasons that are unclear but some say involved funding issues, the town stopped throwing the festival in 2016. But this year, under the guidance of Anthony’s mayor-aptly named Anthony Turner-it’s getting resurrected.

“There’s always different ideas as to why one particular thing didn’t continue,” says Turner. “But as for myself, I believe it’s a good thing to bring the festival back so the citizens of Anthony have something to look forward to and to be proud of-not just the simple fact that we are the gateway to Texas, but that wonderful aspect that we are Leap Year Capital.”

This year’s Leap Year Festival will commence with a complimentary Rollin’ Smoke BBQ dinner for Leap Day babies on the big day, February 29th. The event will then open up to the public, with performances by Sonora Skandalo and Sonora Dinamita, a bit of Lucha Libre wrestling, carnival games, and food and craft vendors all throughout the weekend. Mayor Turner hopes the festival will bring in some foreign visitors, too. “I know in the past there has been a large number of international individuals, particularly England and the likes of the area,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Karen Tinsley-Sroka
Photo courtesy of Karen Tinsley-Sroka
Photo courtesy of Karen Tinsley-Sroka

Meanwhile, for those who’d rather party out on the high seas, there’s the Leap Day Birthday Bash, onboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas to CocoCay and Nassau, Bahamas (Feb 26 to March 1). This will be Karen Tinsley-Sroka’s second go at organizing the epic meet-up. “I always wanted to meet others who share my birthday, but the means to do so just didn’t exist,” she said. “I had heard that the Anthony festival was not going to happen in 2020 because the original organizer was ill. So in 2020, I organized our first Leap Day Birthday cruise.” Out of 217 attendees, 78 were Leap Day Babies-a ratio that has pretty much held since.

Through this cruise, Tinsley-Sroka hopes to make the Guinness World Record for the most Leap Day Babies celebrating their birthday together. “Us Leap Day Babies have LeapBrothers and LeapSisters all over the world,” she says. ” While the average person probably knows a handful or fewer people born on the same day as them, Tinsley-Sroka sent out 85 “Happy Birthday” Facebook posts on her special day last year.

While Dawn, the Facebook group organizer, is often invited to take part in such IRL festivities, she prefers to spend the months leading up to the day at home. “My goal is not to party like it’s 1999,” she says. “My goal here is to get the word out, and this is my window.”

She’s made it her mission to raise awareness about all things leap day, advocating for the date to be recognized in dictionaries and calendars, just like Groundhog Day. She also wants to call attention to the struggle Leap Day Babies face with regard to birth certificates, insurance forms, and other government documents that don’t accommodate those born on February 29.

As a silver lining, these frustrations also allow Leap Day Babies to be loose with their math. They sometimes claim both their actual age and their actual age divided by four, which is conveniently younger. This year, Dawn’s turning 16 at 64. “My sweet 16,” she says. “And this time, I’ve been kissed.”Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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