February 29, which only occurs in a leap year, has long held the tradition of the woman proposing marriage to the man. Where did the tradition start? Why only the one day? Is there something we should be fearful about? Here are the down and dirty secrets behind the one day where a woman is allowed to go down on one knee.
Fifth century Ireland is where it all began. It seems that St. Brigid, on behalf of women everywhere, complained to the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, that men were too slow in proposing to the woman of their dreams. A woman shouldn’t have to wait that long. So, to hurry things up, women were given that one special day every four years to hurry the men up. Irish monks carried the tradition every where and eventually, women all over the world had a day to look forward to.
Scotland took the next step by making it law. Starting in 1288, if a man should refuse a women’s offer of marriage on this one day, he would have to pay a fine. No word in law of what that fine would be but custom generally carried at least a kiss in return. Other jurisdictions levied the fine much higher such as a silk dress or a pair of gloves. Historically, the first man was St. Patrick himself who gently kissed St. Brigid on the cheek and gave her a silken dress instead of accepting her offer. In European society, the fine could be as much as twelve gloves. Presumably to give the woman a pair of gloves for each month to hide the fact that her ring finger bore no ring.
In the United States, the tradition took a new name, drawing inspiration from Sadie of the Al Capp comic strip Li’l Abner. It proved popular as Sadie Hawkins dances started appearing in every high school allowing the young woman to ask the young man to the once a year dance in — of course — February. As in the comics, women every where were now allowed to run after the men asking them to the dance.
…in a leap year of course. The Greek culture considered any marriage performed in a leap year to be bad luck. Many couples will wait until the following year.
If a woman does choose to ask for a man’s hand in marriage, she is expected to wear a red petticoat under her dress. This change may have come from the men who needed fair warning of a woman’s intentions. In order to avoid paying the fine, the man could run away as fast as he could.
All in all, it has become a day over the years to either instill fear in a man or help the shy to even get a mate. It is a small price to pay and face it — it could be worse. February 29 is also known as Rare Disease Day. Which would you rather celebrate?