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2024 is a leap year and there's an Irish tradition associated with leap day

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have team coverage this week of leap year. It's once every four years. Why not? February 29 is tomorrow. Now we're going to tell you how the day is associated with an Irish tradition.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LEAP YEAR")

JOHN LITHGOW: (As Jack) It is leap year, you know. In Ireland, a woman can propose to a man on the 29 of February.

AMY ADAMS: (As Anna) Dad, I'm not going to Dublin.

MARTIN: That's from the trailer for the 2010 Amy Adams movie "Leap Year." A character travels to Ireland with plans to propose to her boyfriend on leap day.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is a real Irish practice which some accounts trace back 1,500 years to the moment when St. Brigid supposedly proposed to St. Patrick, which seems like a romantic story, although St. Patrick biographer Philip Freeman says it's wrong.

PHILIP FREEMAN: There's nothing in the earliest sources on St. Patrick and St. Brigid to suggest that Brigid ever proposed to Patrick. I think since Brigid was a nun and Patrick was a celibate priest, this is pretty unlikely.

MARTIN: Never mind the facts.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MARTIN: People have held onto this legend. It's a nice story.

KATHERINE PARKIN: It looks like female empowerment - the premise of women being able to ask men to marry them.

MARTIN: Katherine Parkin of Monmouth University asked why this tradition really has persisted so long.

PARKIN: What I discovered is that it was actually intended to ridicule the idea that women would have this opportunity.

INSKEEP: Parkin collects Leap Year postcards featuring women proposing to men going back to the early 1900s.

PARKIN: They're portrayed as taller than the men. They're portrayed as bigger, heavier-set than small men. And so they use all of these visual imagery to suggest that the women are taking a man's role. And so there are all these ways in which that plays to a public that sees that as absurd.

MARTIN: But people, as people want to do, still give the tradition their own meaning. NPR listener Kaylene Modica in Austin, Texas, told us what she did with her boyfriend Mo (ph) on the last leap day in 2020.

KAYLENE MODICA: I got down on my knee, and I had a flower. And I proposed to him with the flower, and I gave him this long speech of why we were meant to be together forever.

MARTIN: Another leap day approaches, and they're still married.

INSKEEP: Another NPR listener, Tom Freitag, got in touch from Hendersonville, Tenn., about his proposal to his then-girlfriend, Amy, on leap day in 2008.

TOM FREITAG: I ended up getting, like, a little trinket box of a frog to put the ring in, and I took her out to her favorite restaurant and asked her if she would take the leap with me.

INSKEEP: All right. She did. They've been married for almost 15 years, and, thanks to the reality of leap year, tomorrow is just the fourth anniversary of their engagement.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST SAY YES")

SNOW PATROL: (Singing) Just say yes. Just say there's... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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