Out of all of the days in our calendar, February 29th is the most mysterious. First introduced by Julius Caesar over 2000 years ago, leap days have always been a source of superstitions, folklore and traditions. People born on February 29th are invited to join The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, and in countries such as Scotland and Greece it is regarded as bad luck to get married on a leap day or during a leap year.
However, the most intriguing leap day tradition is that, for hundreds of years, it has been the one day of the year when women can propose to men. Although the idea of women proposing to men does not seem strange now, it was once regarded as a completely absurd and taboo idea.
Why do we need Leap Days?
Leap days were first introduced by Julius Caesar around 46BC. We need leap days to keep our calendar in alignment with the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun. Given that a complete orbit around the sun takes a little longer than a year (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds to be exact), adding an extra day every four years fixes everything.
But we bet that Julius Caesar didn’t think that this rule would one day be the source of a unique proposal tradition!
How did Leap Day proposals start?
The leap day tradition of women proposing to men has its roots in Irish folklore, when St. Brigid (a 5th century nun) and St. Patrick (the Patron Saint of Ireland) made a deal. According to ancient Irish history, St. Brigid of Kildare complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait far too long for men to propose. St. Brigid made this complaint after hearing from many single women whose suitors were too shy to propose. To resolve this issue, St. Patrick stated that women could propose to men once every seven years. After some quarreling, St. Patrick agreed that women could propose to men on leap day. One day every four years. No pressure then!
This tradition was brought over to Scotland by Irish monks. In fact, in 1288 Scotland passed a law that a woman could propose to the man of her dreams in a leap year. Any man who rejected a woman’s proposal would have to pay a fine. According to historians, this law was passed by an unmarried Queen Margaret (although records show she would have been 5 years old at the time). There was also an added rule that women must wear a red petticoat whilst proposing. Although how officials were supposed to check that this rule was being upheld remains unclear…
In America this leap day tradition has also earned the nickname of Sadie Hawkins’ Day. The reason? Sadie Hawkins was a female character in the Al Capp comic strip Lil Abner and she inspired the tradition of Sadie Hawkins Dances where girls would ask boys to attend.
It has also been suggested that this leap day tradition was intended to balance the traditional roles of men and women; in the same way that a leap day balances the calendar.
What happens if a proposal is rejected?
It’s the moment every partner is afraid of – a rejected marriage proposal. That dreaded ‘No’ which is usually swiftly followed by ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ and changing your Facebook status to ‘It’s complicated’. Before the introduction of women’s proposals on leap days, only men had to endure the sting of a rejected proposal. But, on February 29th, the tables are turned.
Don’t worry, it’s not all bad. As part of this February 29th tradition, any man who rejected a woman’s proposal on a leap day had to pay a penalty such as a gown or money. In this manner, February 29th has also been nicknamed ‘Bachelor’s Day’.
Why? Well, this part of the tradition also goes back to St. Brigid and St. Patrick’s deal. Apparently, after St. Patrick agreed to this leap day tradition, St. Brigid dropped to one knee and proposed him. Unfortunately St. Patrick refused, probably because he was too busy fighting snakes and everything. However, as a means of reconciliation, St. Patrick kissed St. Brigid on the cheek and offered her a silk gown. As such, the penalty for refusing a woman’s proposal on leap day was to give her a silk gown.
This leap day tradition has been followed in many countries, not just Ireland. In fact, in Finland a man who rejected a woman’s proposal on a leap day had to give her enough fabric to make a dress. In America, leap day proposals were also a source of amusement for Illinois officials. Between 1932 and 1984, the city council members, police and firefighters of Aurora, Joliet and Morris were all replaced with women every February 29th. As part of this tradition, the women only had one real objective – finding a husband. As such, they used the day to jokingly arrest, jail and fine unmarried men!
In Europe, the most common penalty for rejecting a woman’s proposal on a leap day was that the man in question had to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. There were even laws governing this tradition during the Middle Ages. Why? Because gloves can hide a lack of an engagement ring. The idea was that wearing these gloves would save women from the embarrassment of having a naked ring finger. Perish the thought!
Nowadays, leap day proposals are a more light-hearted gesture. They were even the subject of a 2010 feature film – Leap Year – starring Amy Adams. What’s more, there are far fewer annual newspaper cartoons of women chasing after men with giant nets and lassos on leap days (we think…). But what are your thoughts? Do you like this leap day tradition? Do you know anyone who proposed/was proposed to on a leap day? Would you propose to someone on a leap day? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!