Leap year traditions

Happy Valentine’s Day readers,

So it’s that time of year again, the one day they (being the powers that help organise this blog :P) let me out of the politics and gender history and allow me to write something comparatively lighter and happier, they let me write about love… about valentine’s day. Ok so maybe they don’t let me instead I offer my services to write about the history behind, what I’m now going to name as the lovers holiday. So I hope you’re all having a fabulous day with your loved ones, if your with someone special, or if your single I still wish you all the best, and hope you enjoy the different kinds of love that are around you today instead; friendship; family and a love of life all of which are great things to have. And so in the words of Beatles and Ewan McGreggor in Moulin Rouge, All you need is love, and with that we shall begin.

2012 is a year of many events; in England we have the diamond jubilee and the Olympics, yet this year is special for another reason it is a leap year. Ok I can hear you saying what’s so special about a leap year, we get an extra day in February and that it is, nothing special, nothing romantic … am I right? Well what if I said that this day the 29th of February is very important in the world of romance, in particular for women…., have I given you enough clues yet or are you still reading this thinking that the author has lost the plot and should put you out of your misery. Ok so the important thing that is romantic and can only happen in a leap year is that on the 29th of February a woman can legitimately propose to a man! So to our women readers if there’s a special man in your life that either isn’t getting the hint or you love him so much that you wish to spend the rest of your lives together, now’s your chance to pluck up the courage and get down on one knee and propose to him, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well for you.

Leap year traditions date back as far as 5th century Ireland where according to legend St Bridget struck a deal with St Patrick, after some haggling, originally it was going to be one year out of every seven, to allow women to purpose to men on leap day , in order to balance the traditional roles of men and women. Then unexpectedly St Bridget, being single got down on one knee and proposed to St Patrick, to which he refused but gave her a kiss and a beautiful silk gown in consolation. Apparently in 1288 a Law by Queen Margret of Scotland, aged 5 and living in Norway at the time stated that compensation should be given for a refusal to soften the blow. The statue apparently reads;

It is statut and ordainit that during the reine of hir maist blissit Magestie, ilk maiden ladye of baith highe and lowe estair shale hae libertie to bespeak ye man she likes; albiet, gif he refuses to tak her till be his wif, he sall be mulcit in ye sume of ane hundredth poundis or less, as is estait mai be, except and alwais gif he can mak it appear that he is betrothit to ane other woman, then he shall be free.

Rough Transulation by me: It is ordained that during the reign of her blessed majesty that a maiden lady of high and low birth, shall have the liberty to bespeak [propose to] the man she likes, if he refuses to take her as his wife, he shall be [fined] in the sum of a hundred pounds or less as it may be established, except and always he can make it appear that he is betrothed to another woman he shall be free [of the fine].
However the validity of this law and whether it was actually enforced is questionable, considering it was written by a 5-year-old.

This tradition of leap day, also known as bachelor’s day, was recognised by the 17th century, even if it’s origins are questionable, as shown by the allusion to the tradition of leap year to have a role reversal, in the play The Maid’s Metamorphosis(1600)

‘Master be contented, this is leape yeare,
Women weare breetches, petticoats are deare.’

And perhaps the tradition can be dated back to the medieval ages with this quote attributed to Chaucer, published in the Collectanea by Vincent Lean (1905);

In Leap Year they have power to chuse
The men no charter to refuse

But men be weary of refusing a women’s proposal on this day, as there were consequences if you refused the woman who proposed to you. The consequences include; a kiss (As stated in the law of Margret of Scotland), paying a fine, buying the woman a gown (to the value of £1 in medieval times); or as in some European countries such as Denmark, buying the woman who proposed 12 pairs of gloves, the idea behind this was that the women would then wear the gloves in order to hide her embarrassment of not having an engagement ring. In Finland, if the man refused he should buy the woman the fabrics for a skirt. Although in Greece it is considered unlucky for anyone to get married during this year and on this day.

So leap year proposals, what do you think? Some people think it’s a sweet old tradition that perhaps doesn’t have any place in a modern society any more, or it has a place as a romantic tradition that celebrates the love in this world, let me know, and in keeping with tradition I’m going to, ask for your favourite love quotes again this year, or your favourite love song, please leave them in the comment box below. Finally, all that’s left for me is to do is wish you a happy Valentine’s day, for the 14th , and good luck for any of our female readers who are brave enough to propose on the 29th. But whatever your relationship, I wish you all the happiness and love in the world.

Sophie, xoxo

p.s check out our gallery for a postcard from 1908 showing leap year traditions.



2 thoughts on “Leap year traditions

  1. Ok so favourite love quote: May you never steal, lie, or cheat, but if you must steal, then steal away my sorrows, and if you must lie, lie with me all the nights of my life, and if you must cheat, then please cheat death because I couldn’t live a day without you. Cheers!

    favourite love song; Elephant Love Melody from Moulin Rouge only because it refrances so many other great love songs this way i get to mention a few of my favourites all at once. 😛


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