Proposing during a leap year is a tradition dating back many years.
29th February is leap day which happens every four years. It is also called ‘Bachelors Day’ or ‘Ladies Privilege’ and was the traditional day for a woman to propose marriage to a male suitor or a man she would like to marry.
Women Proposing on a Leap Year
When marriage was only allowed for opposite sex couples, traditionally men were recognised as being the expected ones to ask the big question (unless a woman is the Queen as no one can propose to a reigning monarch, the monarch must propose as Queen Victoria proposed to Prince Albert).
On a leap day of 29th February, women could propose to men breaking with what was in those days considered the tradition. Where did this tradition start?
St Brigid, a Saint for Women.
There are various accounts of why and when this tradition started, with most attributing this four yearly custom to St Brigid, a saint for women. In Irish legends St Brigid struck up a deal with St Patrick in relation to women being able to propose as many men were slow with marriage proposals. The story goes St Patrick declared women were allowed to propose to men on one day every seven years. St Brigid obviously wasn’t happy with this and protested seven years was too long a wait. St Patrick declared it could happen every four years on a leap day.
Leap Year Proposals in Scotland and England
A possible myth is that of a decree passed by law in 1288 by Queen Margaret of Scotland allowing a woman to propose marriage during a leap year. Stating if any man who received a marriage proposal declined, he would be fined the sum of a pound, or required to buy the woman a silk gown.
‘A possible myth’ as Queen Margaret of Scotland was around the age of 8 years old when she died in 1290. Or perhaps a young feminist?
It is also written women were expected to wear a scarlet petticoat or breeches while they proposed down on one knee. Why scarlet when this colour is associated with free thinking, sexually liberated women, outed by society and called derogative names (scarlet woman).
Why breeches which were traditionally worn by men? An acknowledgement this was usually the role of a man so male clothing was required to be worn as was proposing on one knee.
Theories surrounding leap day in England suggest 29th February wasn’t recognised by English law, so it was permitted for women to propose as the day wasn’t a recognised day and no recognition of a man declining a marriage proposal would be enforced.
Leap Day Marriage Proposals
Should a man decline a woman’s proposal of marriage, he would be required to pay a penalty for his refusal. In upper class society the penalty was supposedly a new silk gown or twelve pairs of gloves. The gloves were to hide the woman’s hands to save her the embarrassment of not sporting a new engagement ring. Thankfully times have changed and a woman’s hand devoid of an engagement ring is no longer considered to be a cause of embarrassment.
Getting Married During a Leap Year
According to Greek, Ukrainian, and Italian superstitions, it is considered unlucky to get married in a leap year. Statistics report one in five couples in Greece will apparently avoid planning their wedding during a leap year.
Wedding celebrants have reported postponed ceremonies for 2024, could superstition play a part in the decision to postpone?
Leap Proposal Anniversaries
There are different reasons people propose on certain dates. Some plan it for certain dates such as the three most popular dates for marriage proposals (Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day). Some on a date special to them such as an anniversary, special holiday, or a moving in date.
If you want to acknowledge your engagement date and your proposed marriage on 29th February, what date would you celebrate your engagement anniversary on?
Are Leap Day Marriage Proposals Inclusive?
Online statistics state women considering proposing to male partners would perhaps be more inclined to do so on 29th February. Is this tradition only relevant to those who do not identify as being part of the LQBTQ+ community?
Following Tradition or Personal Choice
When we read what is deemed to be historical information or myths surrounding women proposing marriage, many are misogynistic and sexist today, but could be viewed as forward thinking for those times when women had very few, if any rights.
When we read of leap day marriage proposals, we see the word ‘traditionally’. Traditionally’ is viewed personally. Some follow traditions without questioning the relevance to their lives, some are expected by families to follow tradition. Many want to ‘break with tradition’, some decide to follow tradition because it is their choice. Choice is an important and personal concept.
Why Wait for a Leap Year to Propose
Why wait years to propose to the person you love if you want to ask them to marry you? Marriage is about love not tradition, and with the expectations of families, friends, trends, and others placed on people in relationships, do it your way when the time is right for you.
If you love them, ask them regardless of what day of the year it is, if you are male, female, non-binary or however you identify. As Harry said to Sally:
‘When you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
Blog by Choice Celebrant Training