Way back in the mists of time (or so the legend goes), St Brigid of Kildare was at the end of her tether. Annoyed at how long the womenfolk of 5th-century Ireland were having to wait for men to propose to them, she had a chat with St Patrick. He, it seems, nodded his head sagely, took pity on the good ladies of Ireland, and decided that women would be allowed to propose marriage to their dearly beloveds once every four years, on the extra day of each leap year.
Word of St Patrick’s edict spread to Scotland. There, in 1288, Queen Margaret allegedly passed a law saying that any man who refused a woman’s proposal would have to pay a fine – usually a kiss, a silk gown, or 12 pairs of gloves. Before long, the idea crossed the water to Europe and became a cherished tradition for centuries to come.
Thankfully, we now live in more enlightened times, and women are free to propose marriage whenever they like! But the idea still holds that the 366th day of every fourth year is “a bit special.” February 29th comes along just once every four years, so it gives us an excuse to do something different, to “step outside the box” and do something we might not ordinarily consider.
Maybe you’ve heard the line, “sometimes you have to do what’s best for you and your life, not what’s best for everyone else.” The sentiment might seem selfish, but I think it’s right on the money. Our lives are often so busy – with a full-time job and two young children at home, mine certainly is – and it’s so easy to stagnate or burn out through the relentlessness of it all. Unashamedly, I relish any chance I get to do what’s best for me.
I’m a writer by trade and, perhaps bizarrely, I like to write in my free time. It’s kind of like being on a permanent busman’s holiday. So, I’ll probably grab the chance to spend February 29th working on another chapter for my family history project. Alternatively, I might set aside my day to brush up my research skills or to learn about an archive that I’ve yet to plunder. I may think about attending a writing workshop or lecture, or signing up for evening classes with my local history society. Or – what the heck – I might just forget about all that and attempt to master the guitar solo from Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand.” Actually, perhaps not. That might be a bit ambitious, Steve.
You get the picture, though. You could just relax and have fun, or carry on as normal, but wouldn’t it be a shame to miss out on the promise of a quadrennial bonus day, of 24 extra hours that you could use for personal or professional development?
The possibilities are endless, when you come to think about them. You could start with the basics, by working out which learning style suits you best. You might plan a professional development strategy or settle down to get up to date with the latest research in your area. You could work on improving your memory, boosting your creativity, strengthening your powers of persuasion, or revamping your resume. You could up your problem-solving game, practice your public speaking, or get a grip on your budgeting. If you’re like me, you might grab the chance to work on improving your writing skills – there’s always room for improvement! – or you might be tempted to give your people a boost and help them to put their own extra day of learning to good use.
Whatever you choose to do with your own February 29th, you could do worse than to take a leaf from St Brigid’s book and use it to get along just that little bit further or higher. After all, the same opportunity won’t come around again until 2020!