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The 'Leap Year Capital of the World' is in West Texas. This year, the town is throwing a big party.

Illustration by Raul Alonzo
Raul Alonzo
/
Texas Standard
Illustration by Raul Alonzo

Picture this: A small town in far West Texas — so far west, it’s actually half in New Mexico.

Anthony, with a population just over 3,500, sits about 30 minutes north of El Paso. It’s home to an antique mall and a winery. And it’s The Leap Year Capital of the World.

As you may know, 2024 is a Leap Year — one in every four when we get a 29th day in February. This bonus day makes up for the fact that the earth actually takes slightly longer than 365 days to travel around the sun.

There are traditions associated with Leap Day in different cultures. In Ireland, Leap Day historically gave women the chance to propose to men. However, in Greece, getting married during a Leap Year has been considered bad luck.

So, how exactly did a tiny town on the border end up as the capital of this holiday, of sorts?

It was the idea of a Leap Day Baby and Anthony resident Mary Ann Brown, who discovered her friend Birdie Lewis also had a Leap Day birthday. Quite a coincidence, given that the odds of being born on Feb. 29 are 1 in 1,461.

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It turns out, town leaders were looking for a way to put Anthony on the map back in the 1980s. They reportedly considered a cotton festival, but Leap Day won out. The designation of “Leap Year Capital of the World” was seconded by the governors of Texas and New Mexico at the time.

Anthony’s current mayor, whose name happens to be Anthony Turner, said the festival started small.

“It used to be a one-day event to party and parade, if you will,” he said “But back then I know people would come from all around the world, individuals born on leap days.”

The first Leap Year Festival was in 1988. It also included skydiving and a lunch in the local high school cafeteria — enchiladas and beef stroganoff.

Four years later, almost 100 people representing 22 states and 3 foreign countries were part of Anthony’s Leap Year Birthday Club. They represented all but one Leap Year Birthday dating back to 1896.

“And now we’re hoping to recapture and bring all that back and say, ‘let’s have a festival,’” Turner said. “Let’s not let this die.”

Turner says this year’s festival is being revamped with the help of the El Paso events company Rave Marketing.

“Anthony is a very small town, and we are growing,” he said. “So I wanted to make sure that throughout all this growth, we didn’t forget our roots, we didn’t forget where we came from, where we started.”

The festival will kick off on Feb. 29 with a barbecue dinner for the Leap Year babies, but according to PR Coordinator Bianca Cervantes, the real party starts on Friday, March 1.

“The festivities begin at 6 p.m. and we do have a couple of really good bands and our Lucha League coming in to serve as entertainment,” she said. “Frontera Bugalu, a local favorite that’s gaining a lot of international attention, is a cumbia band that gives its own local cultural flavor with a lot of history going into the lyrics. And then, of course, the opener, the headliner, Sonora Skandalo, which is a world famous cumbia band that brings a lot of nostalgia.”

Cervants said the goal was to make the line up appeal to all ages and showcase what the borderlands have to offer. The festival organizers even put together online cumbia dance classes leading up to the event so people can shore up their moves before the music starts.

“El Paso is a culturally diverse and super talented region when it comes to food, when it comes to music, and when it comes to art,” she said. “What the Leap Year Festival is going to bring is a reminder and an exposure to that lifeblood of what makes El Paso unique and beautiful.”

Cervantes hopes this reborn festival will mark the start of a new tradition, one that will bring people back to Anthony every four years for generations to come.

One person, however, will not be there this year. Mary Ann Brown died in 2021, having celebrated 22 Leap Day birthdays.

But with the festival, her legacy lives on in Anthony.

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