Leap Year Love: Why Some Women Propose on Feb 29

It’s February 29 – which means it’s a leap year and everyone in Australia gets to enjoy an extra day of summer… sorry to anyone living in the northern hemisphere haha.

But of course, today is special beyond just the temperature down under. One of my oldest friends is getting married in the Philippines to her best friend today. I wish her and her new husband the best of luck for the future and wish I could be there to celebrate!

Her wedding is actually what prompted this post. While she didn’t pop the question to her husband, it did get me thinking about the tradition behind leap years and marriage, and what this looks like in 2020. My maternal grandma was from Dublin, so I’ve always been fascinated with the country’s legends – and proposing on a leap year is one of their most popular. 

Keep reading to learn more about this tradition, including where it comes from and its impact in popular culture.

Where Did the Leap Year Tradition Come From?

Like so many other folklore stories – whether out of Ireland or another country – there’s a lot of myth and a little bit of fact. The most common story explaining why women propose on a leap year comes from the 5th century. 

Apparently, St. Brigid of Kildare (coincidentally, who my grandma was named after) bitterly complained to St. Patrick that women were tired of waiting for men to propose, and they wanted to be able to ask their man themselves.

The legend says that, after much debate, St. Patrick agreed to allow women to propose once every four years, on February 29. 

Of course, skeptics have stepped forward to disprove the story by pointing out that St. Brigid would have only been nine or ten years old when St. Patrick died, making this a most unlikely story.

Either way, the tradition was taken to Scotland by Irish monks, and by 1288 the Scots solidified the tradition in law, with a clause stating that any man who declined the proposal on this day would have to pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves. 

The fine allegedly stems from St. Brigid dropping to her knees at St. Patrick’s decree and instantly proposing to him. St. Patrick declined her offer, but gave her a kiss on the cheek and a silk gown to soften the blow. The pair of gloves, on the other hand, were to hide the fact that she didn’t have a ring to wear.

Leap Year Proposals in Popular Culture

In some places, February 29 has been renamed Bachelors’ Day as a result of the proposal tradition. Some men even make it a day to spend with their mates, having a stag dinner or even “man-pedis” – gotta look flash for when that lady proposes, right?

Ten years ago, a film came out about the tradition. Starring Amy Adams, Leap Year told a story about a young woman flying from the US to Ireland, and then traversing what seems like the entire country in order to get to her partner in time to propose. It’s a cute story with a predictable ending that ultimately highlights the silliness of the tradition.

What About Feminism & Same-Sex Relationships?

Recent research shows that almost 50% of women would be happy to pop the question to their partner, while only four years ago that number was only at 5%. This goes to show you how much our views on who can or can’t propose has changed dramatically.

Is this a result of feminism? It’s difficult to say. There have been examples of women taking charge and proposing (or at least hinting at proposal) throughout literature – Austen’s Emma, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and a few of Shakespeare’s heroines, to name a few – although, not necessarily on Leap Day.

Surprisingly, this trend dropped away in the 60s and 70s during second-wave feminism. Admittedly, this could have been because women had other options by then, such as premarital sex or de facto relationships – or doing away with men altogether.

But ultimately, I’d say the dramatic change in sentiment regarding who proposes is a result of same-sex marriage. With no “rules” or societal expectations on who’s meant to propose with same-sex couples, perhaps hetero-women are starting to recognise the silliness of waiting for what they want as well.

Famous Women Who Proposed

Celebrities are trendsetters, and there’s been quite a few famous women over the years who have taken proposing into their own hands.

Britney Spears proposed to Kevin Federline during a flight from Ireland to New York in 2004. “All of a sudden I said, ‘What if you want to get married?’ and I kind of went from there to asking him if he would marry me.”

Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg turned entrepreneur Barry Diller’s proposal down several times, before deciding to ask the question herself. “One year I didn’t know what to give him for his birthday, so I called him and said, ‘You know, if you want, for your birthday I’ll marry you’.”

Pink asked motocross star Carey Hart to marry her during one of his track races. As he entered the third lap, she held up a pit board that read, “Will you marry me?”.

The Best Time to Propose

Steve and I were lying in bed when we got engaged. He had proposed to me a few times already the previous year – while a little tipsy – but I’d insisted it wasn’t real until he had a ring and we set a date. That morning I’d reiterated my position, and he leapt out of bed and said to me, “Let’s go get a ring!”

In hindsight, I’m sure I could’ve just arranged to get a ring myself at any point. But Steve has always had strong feelings about marriage, and I wanted to be confident it was something he wanted.

Ultimately, that’s what matters when you propose. Are you certain your partner wants to get married? Whether you’re a man or a woman or in a same-sex relationship, there’s no better time to pop the question than if you already know what the answer will be.