Happy 3rd Birthday to Leap Day William

May your Leap Day be filled with rhubarb and candy.

Happy 3rd Birthday to Leap Day William

Twelve years ago, the genius writers at 30 Rock gifted NBC’s Thursday evening lineup with an episode I’ve thought about at least once a week ever since. “Leap Day” (season 6, episode 9) is straightforwardly titled and its premise is a simple one: In the world of 30 Rock, Leap Day is a widely celebrated national holiday. 

The world-building of Leap Day is incredible: There’s a Santa-like figure, Leap Day William, who lives in the Mariana Trench and emerges every four years to bring candy to crying children. There’s a traditional delicacy associated with the holiday (rhubarb). People spotted without blue and yellow clothing (every holiday must have colors!!) receive a traditional poke in the eye—except in Boston, where, as Jack Donaghy tells Liz, if you don’t wear blue and yellow, the punishment’s narrating chant goes: “Stomp on your foot, kick you in the knee, Yankees suck, go Pats.” 

Like any good holiday, there are songs one can imagine Irving Berlin writing over a shiny grand piano in the 1940s (“God grant you on this Leap Day fair/a calm wind and the ocean air”); different cultural responses to Leap Day (Jack explains that his assistant is taking the week off because “He’s a Mormon, you know how they are about Leap Day”); and, most importantly, a movie. Leap Dave Williams, a film in the vein of The Santa Clause, stars Jim Carrey and Andie McDowell. Carrey (the titular Dave) is magnificent as a man who keeps turning into Leap Day Williams (who is bald, has gills, and wears a blue suit and matching straw boater); his absurdity is perfectly suited to an obscure holiday movie that runs all day on USA every Leap Day.

The USA network’s Leap Dave Williams marathon.

But my absolute favorite element of this holiday made out of whole cloth is that it comes with its own ethos—the way Love Actually assured us that “at Christmas, you tell the truth” (a maxim I’ve never heard outside of my annual rewatch, for what it’s worth). 

“Nothing that happens on Leap Day counts,” McDowell’s character (presumably his understanding wife) tells Carrey in Leap Dave Williams. “Real life is for March!”

Criss, Liz’s boyfriend played by the always-dreamy James Marsden, repeats this wisdom to Liz when she calls to tell him that a nerd she knew in college is now a tech billionaire who wants to Indecent Proposal her to the tune of $20 million. She doesn’t go through with it (only partially due to her pathological inability to seduce anyone) but when she and Criss talk about it later, he is thoroughly unfazed—it seems that in this world, Leap Day indiscretions really do not transfer over into the regularly scheduled calendar year. 

Pete Hornberger describes Leap Day as “a day to do the things you wouldn’t ordinarily do” (so he’s wearing a sharktooth necklace); Kenneth calls it a “magical extra day!” And sure, if taken too far, this mantra could have uh, terrible consequences—Leap Day shouldn’t be the Purge (though I would kill for a Purge movie featuring Liz, Jack, Jenna, and Tracy). But 30 Rock’s made-up tradition is a goofy, loving way to address this strange quirk of the real-life calendar: We get an extra day every four years! That it’s in the garbage month of February is fittingly very stupid, and very funny.

While it’s not a federal and/or bank holiday—though it should be! Seems like a cause for the anti-daylight savings crowd to adopt—I’d encourage you to treat it as such; at the very least, take a well-deserved TV break and watch the episode.

And in the words of the real (?!) Leap Day William, remember to “live every day as if it’s Leap Day, and every Leap Day as if it’s your last. Oh and, if you should ever see an old man in a blue suit busting out of the ocean, take the time to say ‘howdy,’ it might just be worth your while.”

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