Women Proposing to Men on Leap Day
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 | By Katie
In the 2010 romantic comedy Leap Year (one of the movies filmed in Ireland featured in the “Reel” Ireland movie sights tour), Amy Adam’s character Anna sets out on an ill-fated voyage to Dublin to propose to her lead-footed boyfriend, Jeremy. In the end love prevails, with a different gentleman, but the premise of the film is based on well-known Irish tradition. Throughout Ireland, and much of Europe, women are allowed to propose to their boyfriend on Leap Day. Folklore states the man must accept the proposal, or pay a small penalty in the form of money or goods.
Legend has it that in the 5th century St. Brigid of Kildaire brought the matter of sluggish beaus refusing to propose to their sweetheart to St. Patrick. In an attempt to keep the peace in the war between the sexes, St. Patrick decreed that women were allowed to propose to a suspecting or unsuspecting suitor every four years on Leap Day. If the man refused, he owed his jilted lover compensation for her broken heart. Whether this deal is based on historical fact or folklore is a matter of debate.
Another Leap Day legend asserts that in 1288 Queen Margaret of Scotland, who was a mere five-years-old and residing in Norway, decreed that women were allowed to propose to the man of her choice on Leap Day. If the beau refused, he was ordered by law to rectify the situation by providing his lady love with a silk gown, a pair of gloves, money or a kiss.
The superstitions surrounding the power of Leap Day spread throughout the rest Europe, and the world. In Denmark, if a man refuses a proposal on February 24, or bissextile Leap Day, he is ordered to provide the rejected woman with 12 pairs of gloves. Tradition holds that a declined Leap Day proposal in Finland is worthy of enough fabric to create a skirt. The Greeks have a much different view Leap Day’s romantic powers and the date is actually considered unlucky. Supposedly only 20% of betrothed couples planning to marry will say their “I dos” during Leap Year.
As the legend of Leap Day took shape in the 18th and 19th century, balls and dances were held throughout Ireland, and the rest of Europe, with the intent of allowing women to ask their secret crush to dance, and propose marriage. Contemporary Americans put their own twist on this Irish tradition by throwing Sadie Hawkins dances on Leap Day. Purists celebrate Sadie Hawkins day in November, as she was first introduced by Al Capp in the comic Li’l Abner on November 15, 1937.