Leap Year Customs and Traditions

Did you know the significance of the extra day in a leap year? Last time when it was around, I had no idea that there were customs and traditions attached to the day – logically, it is a day which has been added to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year.

So here we are! 2016 is a leap year and 29thFebruary is a special day for those who were born on this day as it comes once every four years. It is same for those couples who get married on this day. But did you know? February 29th is a day of Good Luck for all single women in Ireland? Yes, perhaps the most well-known of the leap-year marriage superstitions belongs to Ireland, where, women are advised to propose only on this day for good luck.

The 2010 movie “Leap Year” directed by Anand Tucker starring Amy Adams and Mathew Goode in lead had this Irish tradition as theme. In the movie, Amy’s character pursues her boyfriend of four years from Boston to Dublin to propose on leap day. I came to know about the leap year tradition through this movie and it got me curious. Is there really a custom like this? Is a man bound by this custom to say yes on a leap day? So I did what anyone would have done to find out everything about the ‘Leap Day’ tradition. I googled it.

According to ancient history, which dates the incident to 5th century Ireland, a nun, St. Brigid of Kildare following complaints from single women whose suitors were too shy to propose them, requested St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, to allow women to propose marriage. St. Patrick agreed and allowed women to propose but only once every seven years, but at Brigid’s insistence, he accepted and allowed proposals every leap day and the tradition continues.

So now the question is do all men agree to the proposal? No, according to Irish tradition, a man who is proposed to on leap day must accept the proposal if not would have to pay a fine and thus back in 1288, the Scots allegedly passed a law for the same. Interestingly, one more law was  allegedly passed by an unmarried Queen Margaret where the proposer had to wear a red petticoat (underskirt) to warn her intended that she planned to pop the question.

Legend has it that in some upper-class European societies if the man refuses a marriage proposal from a woman on Leap Day then he is expected to pay a penalty, such as buying a silk gown or 12 pairs of gloves or paying money to the woman he has rejected. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.

In the United States, leap day is celebrated as Sadie Hawkins’ Day. On this allotted day of the four-year cycle, women have the right to run after unmarried men to propose. The leap day is also known as “Bachelors’ Day” for the same reason in some places.

However, in Greece there is a different tradition, where one in every five engaged couples avoid getting married in a leap year as they believe it will bring bad luck.

The stories surrounding the leap day are mythically charming. Though traditions and customs are deeply rooted to our way of life and are based on adaptation to our changing perception, I believe it depends on each one of us how we interpret a tradition or a situation. Let me leave you with this quote by Diane Mariechild –

“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”
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