Leap Day 2012: Leap year proposals, an Irish tradition?


Turns out, there's a lot more to Leap Day than simply allowing the earth to finish its rotation around the sun.

For starters, there are the legends. In Greece, it's believed that getting married during a leap year is inauspicious and that the relationship is doomed to end in divorce. In the UK, it's believed that a "leapling," someone with a Feb. 29 birthday, will grow up to be unruly, and Scottish farmers thought that making tweaks to the calendar would mess up the natural rhythm of the earth. Beans and peas planted during a leap year, they believed, would grow the wrong way.

But the most commonly known myth of Leap Day (thank you Amy Adams) is that of the 12th century Irish legend that allows women to turn the tables and ask their partners to marry them.

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According to the legend, St. Brigid of Kildare, a fifth-century Irish nun, had heard enough complaints from single women whose suitors were too shy to propose. So, she spoke to St. Patrick about the problem, and they agreed to let women propose on Leap Day, once every four years.

But the truth behind the legend is dubious. Scholars have pointed out that St. Brigid was only 9 years old when St. Patrick died in 461 AD.

According to the HuffingtonPost, 10 percent of women are planning to take the plunge and pop the question. According to PopCap, 36 percent of men admitted that they would like to be proposed to, instead of the other way around.

According to the BBC, the right of every woman to propose on this day goes back to when the leap year day was not recognized by English law. It was believed that if the day had no legal status, it was acceptable to break with tradition.

At Slate's DoubleX blog, L.V. Anderson writes that it's easy to understand the social function of the leap year proposal:

According to Dr. Katherine Parkin, a historian at Monmouth University and the author of the article “Glittering Mockery: Twentieth-Century Leap Year Marriage Proposals” (recently published in the Journal of Family History), the leap-year-proposal rule felt like a way for women to exert a little power over their romantic fate, since their social freedoms in the early 20th century were otherwise not ideal.

But the real question is, why are women clinging to the old-fashioned idea that the man has to get down on one knee? Here at GlobalPost, we want to remind you that there's still 365 days in every year in which you can propose to your boyfriend or partner. 

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