In many of today's cultures, it is okay for a woman to propose marriage to a man. Society doesn't look down on such women. However, that hasn't always been the case.
When the rules of courtship were stricter, women were only allowed to pop the question on one day every four years. That day was February 29th.
St. Bridget's ComplaintIt is believed this tradition was started in 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. According to legend, St. Patrick said the yearning females could propose on this one day in February during the leap year.
February 29th in English LawAccording to English law, February 29th was ignored and had no legal status. Folks assumed that traditions would also have no status on that day. It was also reasoned that since the leap year day existed to fix a problem in the calendar, it could also be used to fix an old and unjust custom that only let men propose marriage.
The first documentation of this practice dates back to 1288, when Scotland supposedly passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to the man of their choice in that year. Tradition states they also made it law that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.
Sadie Hawkins DayIn the United States, some people have referred to the first Saturday in November as Sadie Hawkins Day with women being given the right to run after unmarried men to propose.
Sadie Hawkins was a female character in the Al Capp comic strip Li'l Abner. Many communities prefer to celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day in November because Al Capp first mentioned Sadie Hawkins Day on November 15, 1937.
Greek SuperstitionThere is a Greek superstition that claims couples have bad luck if they marry during a leap year. Apparently one in five engaged couples in Greece will avoid planning their wedding during a leap year.
Additional ResourcesMarian Morton, "Should Women Propose?", The Scrap Book, v5, January-June 1908, page 656.
Kristina Seleshanko, Carry Me Over the Threshold: A Christian Guide to Wedding Traditions, page 61.
Clarissa Bye, "Take the leap today, girls", smh.com.au, February 29, 2004.
Jenna Sloan, "Leap Year proposals", mirror.co.uk, February 29, 2008.