Published February 29, 2024

Leap day couples on how they'll celebrate first anniversary, four years after wedding

By Nicole Thompson in Toronto

Josh McConnell has had the same conversation so often it's starting to feel like he's reading off a script.

He and his wife are gearing up to celebrate their first anniversary, the Toronto-based writer will tell a co-worker or acquaintance. "I thought you'd been married for years," they respond.

Both things are true: McConnell and his partner married on Feb. 29, 2020, so this is the first year they'll be able to celebrate on the same calendar day they were wed. It gives them an uncommon anniversary — and a fun talking point.

"It's like it's all rehearsed," he said in a recent phone interview. "There's something fun about that, which is kind of juicy."

In practical terms, McConnell and his wife do celebrate their anniversary every year. Their Feb. 29 wedding was held in her native New Zealand, when it was still Feb. 28 in his home country of Canada.

"We play the logical card," he said.

When they got married, they planned to splash out every Feb. 29 and keep their Feb. 28 anniversaries low-key.

That's still the plan — for upcoming leap years. Family circumstances have led them to delay a planned New Zealand trip until 2025, so this year they're going out for a nice dinner and they'll do something big again in 2028.

Even with the smaller-than-expected festivities, McConnell said he and his partner are taking this time to reflect on all the changes in their lives since 2020.

"It's a real moment to be like: a lot has happened in four years," McConnell said. "It's a cool way to mark the journey."

Though leap years serve a practical purpose above all — by keeping our annual calendar in line with the Earth's 365.242-day trip around the sun — they've long been tied up with folklore, particularly around marriage.

Old European tradition held that women could propose to men on leap day — unlike the rest of the year, when men were expected to pop the question to their female partners.

In the modern era, some local governments are hyping leap day weddings — including the municipality of Kawartha Lakes, Ont.

"Leap into marriage at Kawartha Lakes City Hall" for just $400, city staff suggested in a recent press release.

A spokeswoman said the slots had all filled up — there will be seven weddings in the building on Thursday, including one "double wedding."

Shana DeRoche, who runs the Brampton, Ont.-based wedding planning company Dream Weaver Events, said she's never been asked to plan a leap day wedding, though she sees the appeal of getting married on an uncommon day.

But overall, she said fewer of her clients seem concerned with the significance of their wedding date these days.

"People pre-pandemic really cared about when their anniversary was, tried really hard to find a date that would have meaning, or meant something to someone else in their family, or was the anniversary of their first date," DeRoche said.

"Post-pandemic, I think people care about it a lot less."

She's not sure exactly why — it could have to do with the way the pandemic put the important things into focus, or maybe it was the backlog of delayed weddings in 2020 and 2021 that made it hard for newly engaged couples to find a date.

Cassandra Cleveland, who married her husband Mackenzie on leap day 2020, just before the pandemic put weddings on hold, said they're thrilled they were able to squeeze their celebration in.

"We often refer to it as the last big party before the pandemic," she said by email from Vaughan, Ont., north of Toronto.

"It was the last time for quite a while that we saw many family members from all across the globe, and it was a really special memory to hold throughout the tough days of the pandemic."

The couple's lives are looking pretty different these days. They got a puppy in 2021, and their daughter was born nearly two years ago. In 2021, '22 and '23 they celebrated on March 1 — the day after Feb. 28.

"Since it's technically our 'first' anniversary, we plan to celebrate with a big anniversary trip somewhere warm in the coming months," she said.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2024.

— with files from The Associated Press.

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