It’s a Leap Year: Why Women Are Allowed to Propose on February 29

A woman's hand giving a red heart to an outstretched man's head.

It’s a Leap Year in 2020, and if you remember the 2010 movie of the same name starring Amy Adams, you might remember that, according to Irish tradition, women are allowed to propose on February 29th for good luck.
So, where did this movie premise and Irish folklore come from? Irish legend has it that it started with a fifth-century Irish nun named St. Brigid of Kildare. Apparently, St. Brigid was listening to a ton of single women who were complaining that their suitors were too shy to get down on one knee. The wait to get married was too long, and these enamoured and impatient women couldn’t do anything about it! Pretty relatable, right? Who hasn’t wished that their partner of three-plus years would finally make it “official”? Answer: everyone.
Anyway, wanting to help these ladies out, St. Brigid went to St. Patrick, the patron of Ireland (and, yes, the guy responsible for St. Patrick’s Day), and requested a favor. She wanted him to grant permission to these frustrated women the ability to propose to the men in their lives. Initially, St. Patrick said yes, but with a caveat: they could propose to their suitors but only once every seven years. Well, St. Brigid thought that was too long a wait. Imagine having to wait seven years to be allowed to take some action forward with your relationship? No, thanks! Instead, St. Brigid suggested the option of proposing every Leap Year, meaning every four years. St. Patrick saw her point, or at least agreed to her wishes, and then allowed proposals every four years.
Now, here comes a major plot twist. Just when St. Patrick gave his permission for women to propose to their partner, legend has it that’s when St. Brigid got down on one knee and asked for St. Patrick’s hand in marriage! That’s probably why she wanted him to change his offer, right? Anyway, unfortunately, St. Patrick rejected St. Brigid’s offer of marriage (he was probably busy doing a lot of important stuff, like kicking out snakes from the country) so instead, he kissed her on the cheek and offered her a silk gown to soften the blow. Ugh.
This is why the Leap Year tradition dictates that if a man is to reject the offer of proposal, he must give her a silk gown instead. Because, as we know, nothing mends a broken heart faster than a fancy set of pajamas!
The Irish folklore proved so intriguing that it was adopted by the Scots back in 1288 when Queen Margaret allegedly enacted a law that allowed women to propose on February 29th. Talk about making it official. There was one catch, though: the women proposing must wear a red petticoat while doing so. There isn’t really a reason given for this except that maybe Queen Margaret liked her women to look stylish. Any Scottish man who declined the proposal on this day would have to pay a fine, which might include anything from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves. Perhaps Queen Margaret, the sartorial fan she was, really did believe that receiving a pair of gloves would make the embarrassment go away.
If this all sounds a little, well, phoney, you’re not wrong. Historians have often debated the merits of the folklore, insisting that, according to the timeline of the aforementioned events, it was impossible any of this could have taken place. For instance, Queen Margaret would have been just five years old when the Leap Year was proposed (pun intended) and apparently St. Brigid was just nine or 10 years old when St. Patrick died in 461 A.D. so their friendship, not to mention any romance between them, would’ve been unlikely.
Regardless of whether the Irish legend is true or not, you have to admit that it makes for a pretty romantic gesture, and a unique love story. So if you’re a woman who wants to marry your partner, then use the magic of this Leap Year day and propose to your man. May the luck of the Irish be with you!
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