It’s Leap Year Day! I wonder how many of you ladies are planning leap year proposals?
It is thought that this tradition harks back to the days when the leap year day was not recognised under English law. As it had no legal status, it was considered acceptable to break with the convention that it should be the man doing the proposing.
This custom is quite wide-spread and encompasses Scandinavia as well as Great Britain. However, in Greece they have a variation on the theme – they believe that a leap year marriage is likely to end in divorce.
In Denmark the day in question for a woman to propose to the man is the 24th, not the 29th, February (supposedly, this goes back to the time of the Ancient Romans, but that’s all I have found out!). If the man rejects the proposal, he is meant to give the jilted lady twelve pairs of gloves! Why twelve, I wonder?! (Another mystery!)
In Finland they also have a forfeit: the man is bound to supply enough fabric for his rejected lady to make a skirt.
In Ireland, a man refusing the lady on leap year day has to give her a silk gown. Apparently, the custom originated in the fifth century. A nun, St Brigid of Kildare, heard complaints that men were too shy to propose. She asked St Patrick to give permission for females to do the proposing. Initially, he allowed it once every seven years, but later relented, and allowed proposals every leap year day.
In Scotland, the unmarried Queen Margaret supposedly passed a law in 1288 to allow women to propose on leap year day. They did have to wear a red petticoat by way of alerting the men, though!
But why is February such a short month (even if it’s a bit longer this year)?
Roman months originally had 29, 30 or 31 days, but when Augustus became emperor, he felt aggrieved that his month only had 29 days, whereas July (Julius Caesar’s month) had 31 days. He stole two days from February to bring August up to 31. You can do things like that, if you’re Emperor!
Finally, a prayer has been composed by the Archdeacon of Norwich, the Venerable Jan McFarlane, for people planning a leap year marriage proposal:
“God of love, please bless N and N as they prepare for the commitment of marriage. May the plans for the wedding not overtake the more important preparation for their lifetime together. Please bless their family and friends as they prepare for this special day and may your blessing be upon them now and always. Amen.”
If you do propose to your beloved, ladies, please let me know how you get on. Remember that, as a civil celebrant, I may be the next person you will want to contact when you plan your wedding!