Leaplings rejoice — it’s your day

Ellie Smude celebrates a birthday. On Feb. 29, Ellie will be able to celebrate her birthday on the actual date with two sets of candles for turning 2 and 8. She was born in 2012. Submitted photo

For Leaplings, this year’s extra day means birthdays are celebrated in full for those born on Feb. 29.

No substituting Feb. 28 or March 1.

Every four years, those babies born on leap day — a chance of about 1 in 1,461 — are able to celebrate their actual day. It’s an opportunity most people take for granted, celebrating their birthday on the date.

Ellie Smude, who turns 8 Saturday, Feb. 29, will be actually celebrating her second birthday.

Her mom Joni Smude remembers the snowstorm in Brainerd on the day her daughter was born. Joni and her husband David Smude live by Pierz. They knew of just one other leap year baby, one of her husband’s classmates. When Ellie was born, they went in two days early wanting to have a February baby. Joni Smude said her husband didn’t want the leap day as the birthday, but Ellie had other plans and waited to arrive.


Ellie Smude

They celebrate by putting two sets of candles on the cake, marking Ellie’s leap year age and her number of years since her birth. Her siblings say it isn’t fair as they joke Ellie will be able to get her driver’s license when she’s 4. Joni Smude said her daughter also sometimes uses her age to say she should get away with something, after all she is only 2. Clever, her parents say, but you are 8 years old.

“A lot of people don’t understand or they don’t even know what it is when you say she is a leap year baby, they just kind of think that she was born that year,” Joni Smude said. Ellie is the Smude’s fourth child of five with siblings Brock, 14, Josi, 12, Brady, 10, and Audrey, 1. On a non-leap year, Ellie celebrates on both Feb. 28 and March 1, getting two days. But she was looking forward to having her own special day.

5 SMUDE kids 148.jpg
Ellie Smude, lower right, poses with her siblings Brock, 14, Josi, 12, Brady, 10, and Audrey, 1. Submitted photo

Asked about being a leap day baby and celebrating her birthday Saturday, Feb. 29,, Ellie Smude wrote this letter. Submitted photo

Ellie stated having the leap year birthday makes her feel special and she was excited to turn 2 this year. She’s hoping for a unicorn backpack.


“I think everybody just thinks she’s special or there is something different or something for her to look forward to this year,” Joni Smude said. They plan to have a bigger party for the actual date, which will be celebrated Saturday. “Everyone thinks it’s pretty cool because they know somebody with a leap year baby.”

Hailee Morford, Pequot Lakes, expected to celebrate her 7th birthday with her husband Michael. She’ll actually be 28 Saturday.

“I never saw it as like a bad thing, where some people are like, ‘Oh you won’t have a birthday this year,’” Morford said. “I saw it as more I am forever young. I can celebrate on the 28th or the 1st. And I just remember it kind of made me feel special, too. When I did have a birthday, it was like a big deal. ...

“I always loved it. … I enjoyed it. I thought it was fun. It made me a little different.”

Hailee Morford celebrates turning 5. Submitted photo

Morford remembers turning 2 and her parents sent flowers to the school, where she was an 8-year-old student. It made it a special day because it was her actual day.

“I loved it,” she said.


Some people have asked her if she only celebrates every four years. Her family still celebrated the passing of a year. “It was just extra special when it was the actual birthday.”

She plans to go to lunch with her sisters and spend time with family.

“My husband jokes when he is 84 he’ll be married to a 21-year-old,” Morford said and laughed.

Hailee Morford is looking forward to spending her 7th birthday with her husband Michael. Morford, leap year baby, is turning 28 Saturday. Submitted photo.

She knew of family friends who were leap day babies. One was her gym teacher. She remembers her teacher telling the class she was celebrating her 12th birthday and while her classmates exclaimed with surprise, Morford totally understood. After all, she was just 2.

When Morford worked with elementary students and told them she was 6, they made jokes about being older than she was.

“I still celebrate and it's just like an extra special cherry on top when I do get that extra birthday every four years, so it all just depends on how you look at it,” Morford said.


The youngest of three sisters, Morford said she arrived two weeks late so she wasn’t expected to be born so close to the special date. Now, she has a niece who was born Feb. 28. Morford grew up in Brainerd, moved away for college and graduate school and lived in St. Cloud before moving back to the lakes area about three years ago to be closer to family. She and her husband work for the Brainerd School District. With one of her sisters also moving back with her family, the sisters are all back together.

Hailee Morford, who is celebrating turning 7 this year as a leap day baby, posed with her mom and sisters Colleen Palony, left, Tori Ludowese, Morford , and Nicole Athnos. Submitted photo

“We all moved back and I never thought I’d live in Brainerd again, but here we are,” she said. “It’s been really great to have family around and to be able to help each other out and get together.”

For those celebrating their leap day birthday, there are perks. Several restaurants will offer birthday freebies, USA Today noted, for those born on Feb. 29, who may also be called Leapsters or Leapers.

Some of the lore around the day include it being a day of role reversals with women proposing to the men in their lives, think Sadie Hawkins tradition. An internet search finds mentions of astrologers believing those born on Feb. 29 to have unusual talents.
Leap day was added to keep an orderly calendar in alignment with the time it takes — 365.24219 days — for the Earth to orbit the sun. Before the change, credited to two calendar masters in Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII, notes a person who lived to be 90 could have their birthday drift by three weeks. About 684 people out of a million are born on leap day, accounting for about 5 million people on the planet, according to

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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