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Giant leap forward for celebrations

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Having a birthday or anniversary that comes around only every four years not only adds flavour to routine celebrations, it also impacts people in different ways.

“I tell everybody that this year, I’m turning 22,” laughs Sandringham Gardens resident Ann Kopelowitz. “It’s great to have a birthday every fourth year.” For Kopelowitz, who in fact turns 88 on 29 February this year, having a leap-year birthday has always enhanced her celebration. “From the time I was about eight, I always knew that I had an extra special birthday every four years. It was really fun,” she says.

“Every celebration was so lovely, and was first spent with my parents when I was growing up and then with my own children, who always thought it was funny. I just think it’s nice to have such an original birthday.”

One of Kopelowitz’s daughters, who lives in the United States, has in fact timed a trip to South Africa this year to coincide with her mother’s first “real” birthday in four years. The family plans to spend two nights at Toadbury Hall in Muldersdrift to mark the occasion. On other years, Kopelowitz chooses to celebrate on 28 February, as it’s the last day of the month.

Yossi Montrose, who marks his 44th birthday on 29 February, has more mixed feelings about his birth date, which has always set him apart. “Growing up, I felt left out as I didn’t have a date to celebrate but I also felt empowered by it as I was different,” he says. “I got bullied a lot during school, but sometimes I would use my birthday as a weapon, saying when I was 16 to younger kids who would tease me about it, ‘You can’t even beat up a four-year-old’, and that would often stop them. I also felt special at times as people would be amazed, saying they hadn’t met a leap-year baby before, and they would make a big deal out of it.”

As an adult, Montrose says he always felt different and that he didn’t fit in, until he met his wife. Yet, some aspects of his unique personality linger, which he feels might have something to do with having an unusual birth date. “For example, I’m a ‘fitness dude’, but I’m the completely opposite of what’s expected in the fitness industry. I make my own path with my unique training methodology through the use of an exercise ball,” he says. “I’m always swimming upstream and doing what’s right for me, not what’s popular. This can be isolating at times.” This is also true of his Judaism, he says, where though he considers himself religious, he doesn’t come across as “typically” so, which can be confusing to others.

When he was growing up, his parents chose to celebrate on his Hebrew birthday, but later in life, Montrose faced a conundrum when considering when to mark his Gregorian birthday. “I would wait until 23:59 on 28 February, and my mates would message me at midnight to wish me,” he says. “I wasn’t technically alive on 28 February 1980, and I like to keep February as my month, so 1 March isn’t great for me either. My wife started saying “happy life day” as opposed to “happy birthday”. This year will be only the third time being with me on 29 February, so it’s special for her too.”

Ultimately, regardless of when your birthday is, growing older is all about your attitude, says Montrose. “Age is just a number, and whether I’m 44 or 92 on 29 February, it doesn’t really matter as I still want to grow in every area. I try to make wise choices every day to have even more reason to celebrate next time round.”

Marking a special date on a leap year isn’t always left up to chance. For some, it’s a deliberate choice. Such is the case with Janice Shapiro, who married her husband, Stephen, on 29 February 2004. “We got engaged in 2003 when my British husband used the rouse of the Cricket World Cup to travel to South Africa, where I’m from, when in fact it wasn’t about the cricket, he was planning to propose,” says Shapiro. Though the couple were thrilled when they got engaged on the day they arrived in the country, they were immediately pressured to set a wedding date.

“He’d literally proposed an hour before, and people were asking when the wedding would be,” she says. “As a joke, we said, ‘Let’s see if 29 February 2004 is a Sunday’ and it was, so joking, we told people that’s when we’d be getting married.” Soon the joke turned into reality when the couple decided that since it was a Sunday, it was a unique and fun date, and the venue they wanted was available, it would in fact be the perfect day to have their wedding.

“My birthday is actually on 28 February, so we got married the day afterwards,” says Shapiro. “Every year, regardless of whether it’s a leap year or not, we always celebrate our anniversary one day after my birthday.” On leap years, says Shapiro, their celebration is a bit more special, and this year, which marks 20 years of marriage – or five years as the couple likes to tell people – will be even more so as they head to Iceland for a holiday.

“Telling people we’ll soon be celebrating five years of marriage when our oldest child is 13 always gets them a bit,” she laughs. “People who know us know that we have a quirky sense of humour, we like doing things a bit differently, which is also why we chose 29 February. ‘Add a bit of fun and spice into your life,’ is what I always say.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Nadine Bentel

    Feb 29, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    It is said that if one is born before 12 noon on 29 Feb, then one will celebrate the next birtday on 28 Feb. Born after noon on 29 Feb, celebrate on 1 March. Until the next leap year of course when you will celebrate on the 29 Feb.

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