Issaquah man is ready to celebrate rare Feb. 29 birthday

February 28, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Christopher Hetzel has a special appreciation for the February page of a calendar on every fourth year, when the number 29 comes up in the last square. By Greg Farrar

Christopher Hetzel, a middle-aged man, is poised to turn 10.

The architectural historian and Issaquah resident is actually closer to 40, but due to a quirk in the Gregorian calendar, Hetzel’s birthday, Feb. 29, only comes around as often as a presidential election.

In other years, Hetzel celebrated the leap day birthday on Feb. 28. Come Feb. 29, however, the quadrennial occasion requires a blowout celebration.

“When you’re young, it always sets you apart as being special, which is of course a positive thing,” he said.

Feb. 29, or leap day, occurs in most years evenly divisible by four such as 2008 and 2012. (Hetzel is not due to turn 11 — or 44 — until 2016.)

Though most years of the modern calendar include 365 days, a complete revolution of Earth around the sun lasts about 365 days and six hours. The extra hours accumulate and, after four years, the extra 24 hours is added to the calendar to keep the calendar and the sun in alignment.

The unusual birth date also led to some confusion for others during Hetzel’s childhood.

“Growing up, I’d get teased a lot. ‘Oh, you’re not going to have a birthday’ or ‘You don’t have a birthday,’” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more of a positive thing, where people are jealous of me because I don’t have a birthday and I can claim to be 10 years old.”

Nowadays, Hetzel usually uses actual age rather than calendar age — although the salt-and-pepper hair acts as a giveaway.

“If it’s somebody that is a friend or coworker that may not know that I’m a leap year, then I might make some reference or some joke about being 9 or 10,” he said.

Jennifer Sutton, Hetzel’s wife, said the birthday is sometimes still a reason for gentle jabs.

“My friends kind of tease me a little bit about robbing the cradle,” she said.

The birthday boy and grown-up friends trekked to Chuck-E-Cheese’s, sampled a dinosaur-shaped cake and enjoyed children’s party favors for Hetzel’s eighth birthday. The celebration lasted until partygoers realized Chuck-E-Cheese did not serve alcohol.

“You can only go so far with the age- appropriate birthday,” Sutton said.

Partygoers headed to the Cougar Mountain Zoo for Hetzel’s ninth birthday in 2008. Hetzel and Sutton plan to attend a Seattle Sounders FC preseason match to celebrate the big 1-0.

“The beautiful thing about him having this birthday is that we, as adults, have an excuse to play,” Sutton said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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One Response to “Issaquah man is ready to celebrate rare Feb. 29 birthday”

  1. Phyllis Woolwine on February 28th, 2012 9:32 pm

    Happy birthday Christopher! Tomorrow I will be celebrating too. I’m turning 12. Always so fun to hear of another, because we are so rare. Have a great day!
    – Phyllis in Shoreline

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