Leap year festival a go
You can’t keep a good party down
Anthony, New Mexico/Texas is still the leap year capital of the world, even though for a time it looked like the title might be up for grabs.
Anthony is a town of about 15,000 that straddles the border of Texas and New Mexico, but its real claim to fame is that it’s the birth place of the World Wide Leap Year Festival.
So when the Anthony Chamber of Commerce decided not to back this year’s celebrations, Mary Ann Brown, the festival’s founder and a leap year baby, was determined to still hold the event. She just didn’t know how big it would be without a backer.
“The mayor of Anthony, Texas, announced on the news that there would be no festival,” said Brown, from Anthony Auto Parts, the location of the very first leap year festival. “I wrote back to the news that there will be.”
With support for the festival strong throughout the area, it wasn’t long before the event found a new sponsor.
“We’ve always got a lot of support from the community,” said Brown. “The Anthony Lions Club took on the sponsorship, and it’s going strong.”
The idea for the festival came to Brown one day in 1988, when she discovered that her neighbour was also born on Feb. 29. Brown suggested to her friend that they attend a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce and ask for their support for a festival.
“They were really puzzled by that,” Brown said, of the Chamber of Commerce members’ reactions, but they went along with the idea.
With only a few weeks to plan the festival, Brown’s sister and friend started making up signs and banners. “We didn’t know what we were going to do. We just knew we were going to do it,” said Brown.
The first festival ended up being held at the auto parts shop where Brown worked as a bookkeeper. Balloons and banners were put up outside of Brown’s office, and there were nine people there that day who were born on a leap day.
“They ranged in age from a little four year old girl having her first birthday, to a lady who was about 84.”
However, it was when the press picked up on the story that things really took off.
“It went out on the AP (Associated Press) wire, and we just had people calling from everywhere,” said Brown.
Global interest in anything leap year is no surprise for Peter Brouwer, founder of The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, a club that boasts nearly 10,000 members from around the world.
“We get as much traffic on February 29 as we get for the full year,” said Brouwer, during a phone interview. “[Friday] we had around 6,000 unique visitors, and normally we get about 25 or 30 a day.”
Brouwer is usually swamped with callers every time Feb. 29 rolls around.
“I’ve been working at it for a whole month. The birthday club keeps us pretty busy,” Brouwer said of the hundreds of interview requests he has received. “They started in November. We got a call today from India. We’ve also got requests from South Africa and Australia. We get them from right around the corner, too. I’m from Surrey, Vancouver Island.”
Brouwer, who is spending his birthday this year attending a Radiohead concert in Florida, will be celebrating his 14th birthday.
“I’m not happy about this,” said Brouwer, “because it just occurred to me the other day that my next birthday, I am going to be 60 years old. I’ll be turning 60 in 2016.”
Going through life celebrating so few actual birthdays might seem like a raw deal for some, but for Mary Ann Brown, it has never been an issue.
“This is going to be my 20th birthday,” said the 80-year-old Brown. “People have always asked me, ‘Didn’t you feel cheated?’ and I said, ‘No, I never did feel cheated’. My mother always made me a cake, whether I had a real birthday or not, on the last day of February.”
With leap day upon us, this year Brown will have her cake and her real birthday too.