HOW will you spend this Thursday? The reason I ask is that I’m endlessly fascinated with the traditions and superstitions to mark February 29.

One of the most famed customs surrounding a leap year is, of course, that women can “turn the tables” and are “allowed” to propose to men on this date (yes, those quote marks are used in deliberate disdain).

Bachelor's Day, also known as “Ladies’ Privilege”, is believed to stem from an Irish tradition based on a legend about Saint Brigid and Saint Patrick.

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In the fifth century, Brigid is said to have gone to Patrick and raised the issue of some women having to wait too long to marry because men were slow to propose.

The story goes that Patrick mooted that women be allowed to propose one day every seven years, but Brigid convinced him to make it every four years instead.

It is a premise that reputedly once had legal basis. Queen Margaret of Scotland is said to have passed a law in 1288 that decreed any man turning down a leap year proposal should be fined, with the penalty anything from £1 to a silk gown.

Denmark adopted a similar stance making any suitors who spurned a marriage offer stump up 12 pairs of gloves (purportedly to hide the women’s blushes at not having a ring), while in Finland the requisite dues were to provide sufficient fabric to make a new skirt.

The Herald: Queen Margaret of Scotland with her husband, Malcolm IIIQueen Margaret of Scotland with her husband, Malcolm III (Image: free)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, a leap year isn’t widely seen as fortuitous. In Scots folklore, it is said to be unlucky to be a “leapling”, the term used for babies born on February 29, as according to superstition they face a life of “untold suffering.”

Farmers aren’t great fans of the date either, with sayings such as “leap year was never a good sheep year”. Which reads a bit like a slogan you might see emblazoned on T-shirts, mugs and pens at a bootleg merchandise stall outside the NFU annual conference.

Meanwhile, a German proverb states that “Schaltjahr wird Kaltjahr” - or “leap year will be a cold year”. And in Greek, Italian and Ukrainian cultures some believe that tying the knot in a leap year, particularly on February 29 itself, is a sure-fire road to divorce.

The French take a more tongue-in-cheek approach. Each February 29, the satirical La Bougie du Sapeur is published. Translated as “The Sapper’s Candle”, it is based on a comic book character called Camember, created by George Colomb in 1896.

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The 20-page publication, launched in 1980, is filled with puns, jokes and wordplay, as well as interviews and humorous commentary on news from the last four years. As a quadrennial title it is the world's least frequently published newspaper.

So, are leap years to be dreaded? Like anything, I suppose, it is what you make it. I have a friend who likes to view February 29 as a “bonus” 24-hours to treat herself and use it as an opportunity to clear her diary and do something nice.

In the two decades I have known her, she has variously taken herself to a spa, done a “sip and paint” class, climbed a Munro and gone on a mini break to Bruges to mark the leap year.

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I was all set to take a leaf out of her book and do likewise in 2024, only to check my diary and realise I have already filled my day with appointments for a clutch of life admin tasks, such as drafting a will and getting a quote for replacement windows.

Middle age is not always rock ’n’ roll, but it is robustly practical. Can someone please remind me in four years to book a swanky garden centre afternoon tea or a meander around a nice country park for February 29, 2028?