The extra day added to Leap Year may be a mere astronomical dividend, but after three straight years of foreshortened Februaries, we’re grateful for any bonus at all. True enough, we’d rather get an extra day in balmy July, but we’ll take what we can get. On the bright side, Leap Day falls on a Saturday this year, making it easy to spend it doing something frivolous and/or self-indulgent. After all, it’s going to be harder to get off work in 2024, when Leap Day will fall on a Thursday.
Make it founder's day
The Gaul-conqueror himself, Julius Caesar, instituted Leap Year as part of a solution to synchronize the Roman calendar with the seasons. In a one-time only adjustment in 46 BCE, he added three extra months to the year. On advice from his Egyptian astronomers that the astronomical year was actually 365 and one-quarter days, he added one day to the normal 364-day yearly Roman calendar and decreed that every four years, February would get another extra day. And so it has been (more or less) since 45 BCE.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (25 Evans Way, Boston; 617-566-1401; gardnermuseum.org) displays a handsome 16th-century bronze head of Julius Caesar in the third-floor hallway at the head of the stairs. It sits just below the Tintoretto “Portrait of a Lady in Black.” The bronze Caesar is attributed to Venetian sculptor Simone Bianco, and the hallway vignette features many Venetian artworks and artifacts along with a few Flemish and Japanese accents. Every time we visit the museum, we come away with a fresh appreciation of Gardner’s adept juxtaposition of styles and eras.
Take the biggest leap
According to Irish folklore, Leap Day traditionally afforded women the one-day right to propose marriage. Purportedly, St. Patrick granted such permission in the 5th century after St. Brigid of Kildare complained that women had to wait too long for men to make the move. Gender roles and marriage have changed a lot since the 5th century, but it’s fair to say that tradition supports a Feb. 29 proposal by whichever partner is readier to take things to the next level.
If you want to surprise your beloved in the Irish tradition, you needn't emulate Amy Adams in the 2010 rom-com “Leap Year.” Get your Irish fix right here in New England.
If the object of your affection is a skier, consider a fireside proposal after a pub set of Irish music at the Inn at Long Trail (709 Route 4, Killington, Vt.; 802-775-7181; innatlongtrail.com), just down the road from Killington’s Pico base lodge. Or cap off a proposal dinner by sharing a Double Chocolate Irish Soda Bread Pudding (with Irish whiskey cream sauce). In addition to standard rooms, the inn has five suites with fireplaces in the living rooms.
If you’ve ever dreamed of a church wedding, start with a church proposal at New Hampshire’s Holy Grail Food & Spirits (64 Main St., Epping, N.H.; 603-679-9559; holygrailrestaurantandpub.com) located in the former St. Joseph’s Church. From a pewlike booth in the Choir Loft, you can spring the question as light filters through the original stained glass windows. The menu isn’t strictly Hibernian, but you could order bangers and colcannon (sausages and a potato-cabbage mash) or Dublin coddle (sausage, potatoes, bacon and onion in ham stock).
Proposees should take note: By tradition, refusing the proposal meant paying the piper — or at least buying the proposer a silk gown. It was an early version of choosing “Yes” or the dress.
Get into the spirit
Over the centuries, a number of belief systems — including numerology and astrology — have attached special spiritual significance to Leap Day. We also think it’s a good excuse to get out into nature to soak up some karmic energy. The woodsy cluster of stones known as America’s Stonehenge (105 Haverhill Road, Salem, N.H.; 603-893-8300; stonehengeusa.com) is particularly apt. Some folks think this roughly 4,000-year-old site was constructed as an astronomical calendar to observe sunrise and sunset at specific times of year. We’re skeptical, but the stones certainly didn’t get that way by themselves. At any rate, it’s a serene place to visit on a late winter day. Even better, the operators rent snowshoes for the trails that wind through 105 acres of woodlands.
Indulge in a retreat
Leap Day is a kind of special gift, and you might want to seize the opportunity to escape the quotidian cares and focus on your inner self. If you opt for a day pass at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health (57 Interlaken Road, Stockbridge; 866-200-5203; kripalu.org), you can arrive as early as 6 a.m. so you will be ready to greet sunrise a half hour later. A day of yoga classes, meditation, and healing exercises should give you the inner strength to brave those 31 days of March that loom ahead.
Let history cast its spell
Unfortunately, Feb. 29 was a dark day in 1692. That’s when judges issued the first three arrest warrants in the hysteria that would become the Salem Witch Trials. Before it was over, about 200 people would stand accused and 20 would be put to death. A film shown at the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center (2 New Liberty St., Salem; 978-740-1650; nps.gov/sama), Salem Witch Hunt: Examine the Evidence, masterfully encapsulates the complex events and social trends behind Salem’s darkest year. The Salem Witch Museum (19½ Washington Square, North, Salem; 978-744-1692; salemwitchmuseum.com) both dramatizes the events of 1692 and explores changing attitudes toward practitioners of Wicca. Let’s just say that Salem is a far more welcoming place than it was in 1692, as evidenced by several shops catering to modern witches. Constructed for the 300th anniversary, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial on Liberty Street between Charter and Derby streets somberly honors the memory of the victims.
All hail the leapers
For a more congenial outing with the kids, search out some especially athletic leapers at the Stone Zoo (149 Pond St., Stoneham; 617-541-5466; zoonewengland.org/stone-zoo.aspx). The tiny (about 2 inches long) Panamanian golden frogs in the Animal Discovery exhibit have extremely long limbs to leap away from predators too inexperienced to know the critters’ intensely yellow skin signals that they are poisonous. Don’t miss the snow leopards in their roomy enclosure in the Himalayan Highlands. These powerful cats are able to leap up to 10 times their length. They have thickly padded paws for snow stability and tummy fur up to 5 inches thick to keep them warm. Since they’re built for winter weather, they may well be leaping for joy on Feb. 29.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at email@example.com.