A Brief Survey of Leap Day in Pop Culture

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Leap Day isn’t necessarily a real holiday, as nobody ever closes a bank for it or sends a card to mark the occasion. Still, it only happens every four years, and that’s plenty enough reason to celebrate the day. Because of its relative novelty, February 29th has become a featured date for a number of movies, television shows, and other cultural outlets. So, we’re celebrating this non-holiday by rounding up some of our favorite examples of Leap Day in pop culture. If you can think of anything we’ve missed, let us know in the comments.

The Pirates of Penzance

February 29th plays an important role in this Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera, in which Frederic, whose apprenticeship with the titular band of pirates can only end after his 21st birthday, realizes that his birthday falls on Leap Day and he must serve for 63 more years. This complicates his budding relationship with Mabel, but she decides to wait for him anyway, and then all the pirates (who are secretly noblemen) get married to her sisters, because that’s how operatic comedies work.

Grace Kelly, 1955. © Philippe Halsman / Magnum Photos

Philippe Halsman’s Leaping Portraits

Life magazine photographer Philippe Halsman was known for studying “jumpology” in his work. We’ll let him explain it: “In a jump the subject, in a sudden burst of energy, overcomes gravity. He cannot simultaneously control his expressions, his facial and limb muscles. The mask falls. The real self becomes visible.” While not exactly Leap Day-inspired, we can’t think of a more appropriate photo series for the holiday; check out more of Halsman’s leaping subjects — from John Steinbeck to Marilyn Monroe — in a slideshow over on Slate.

Leap Year

This 2010 romantic comedy centers around the Irish and Scottish tradition that on Leap Day, a man who receives a marriage proposal must accept it, and women are encouraged to ask male suitors for their hand, rather than the other way around. Anna (Amy Adams) wants to use this day to propose to her boyfriend in Ireland, but her plane gets rerouted and she spends the entire movie trying to get there, with help from a ridiculously attractive Irishman (Matthew Goode) for whom she eventually ditches her boring boyfriend, because that’s how romantic comedies work.

La Bougie du Sapeur

Irish and Scottish people aren’t the only ones who have some cool cultural traditions around Leap Year. So do French people, who can buy a new issue of the satirical newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur every four years on Leap Day. Still only in its ninth issue since 1980, the magazine is named after a famous (in France, at least) comic character, the sapper Camember, who was born on a Leap Day. Interested readers aren’t allowed to subscribe, by the way — the publishers think it would be too complicated to keep track of people, who are likely to move during the four-year interval between issues.

February 29

Leap Day isn’t just comedy fodder — sometimes it manages to be terrifying, such as in the South Korean horror film February 29, about a series of supernatural murders that occur at a haunted tollbooth every four years. Ji-Yeon, a young, pretty tollbooth girl, is given a bloodstained ticket by a driver in a mysterious black car, and believes herself to be a target of these murders. The movie is more of a psychological thriller than the standard Asian-cult-cinema gorefest, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of blood and knives to be found.

Comic books

Did you know that Superman was born on a Leap Day? At least, that’s what DC Comics decided a long time ago — it’s not like he would actually know, being an adopted kid from a now-destroyed planet that probably had quite a different calendar from ours. Supposedly it’s also the birthday of DC’s Captain Marvel, as well as Little Orphan Annie. Some even theorize that these writers gave all their characters Leap Day birthdays in an attempt to explain why they age so slowly — because everyone knows that people who are born on February 29th live four times as long!

Google

If you were confused about the frogs on your Google search bar this morning, allow us to explain. Google uses frogs every Leap Day for their doodle, as evidenced by their 2004 and 2008 examples — you know, because they leap. This year’s image is also a reference to the birthday of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, who wrote the comedic opera The Barber of Seville. Frogs shaving? Now that’s a mental leap.

Parks and Recreation

This year’s TV comedies have been rife with Leap Day references. In last Thursday’s Parks and Recreation, we learned that Jerry’s birthday falls on a Leap Day, and Leslie decides to throw him a surprise sweet 16. Of course, nothing goes right, and by the time Jerry gets to the party (after being interrupted in the middle of a bath), everyone is asleep or drunk or both. Naturally, it’s all somehow Jerry’s fault. God, Jerry.

Modern Family and The Middle

There’s more planned tonight for fans of Leap Day, as both Modern Family’s Cameron Tucker and Sue Heck from The Middle celebrate birthdays on February 29th. Given that Cam is a flamboyant fan of parties who lives for drama and attention, and Sue is the awkward middle child in an insanely dysfunctional family, we expect that neither will be happy with what awaits them.

30 Rock

No show went more Leap Day-crazy than 30 Rock, which tried to turn February 29th into a legitimate holiday by giving it an apparently benevolent grandfatherly mascot called Leap Day William, who lives in the Mariana Trench and gives candy to children after making them cry. You’re also supposed to wear blue and yellow, or you get poked in the eye — just like when you get pinched for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. There’s even repeated reference to a Leap Day William movie starring Jim Carrey from Bruce Almighty and Andie McDowell from Groundhog Day, as well as a sequel about a baby. How do we get ourselves to the alternate universe where that’s a real thing?