Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Leap Year: A chance for women to pop the question?

Resource: IrishCentral

Ireland's folklore is full of wonderful, funny, strange, but sometimes out-dated traditions and in this year of 366 days, we are greeted with one of the most well-known. Yes, it is a leap year, and although you may have thought it was a myth, according to the old Irish tradition, this is the perfect chance for a woman to take matters into her own hands and get down on one knee on February 29.  Looking back through ancient Irish history, it is said that the tradition began in 5th century Ireland when St. Brigid of Kildare bitterly complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait far too long for men to propose. The legend says that St. Patrick decreed the women could propose on this one day in February during the leap year. I'm sure the women were thrilled.


The tradition was then taken to Scotland by Irish monks. Back in 1288, the Scots passed a law that allowed a woman to propose marriage to the man of their dreams in a Leap Year with the law also stating that any man who declined the proposal on this day would have to pay a fine. The law was allegedly passed by an unmarried Queen Margaret (although records show she may only have been five years old at the time) and she put in place a rule that all those women proposing must wear a red petticoat while doing so. The fine to be paid if a man declined could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

This tradition comes from another tale about St. Patrick and St. Brigid in which she drops straight to her knee at Patrick's decree, instantly proposing to him. Patrick declined her offer – he was probably too busy saving Ireland from snakes – but he gave her a kiss on the cheek and a silk gown to soften the blow.  This, too, is dubious. Although many people believe that St. Patrick and St. Brigid met, and that she offered her vows to him, Brigid would historically have been only nine or ten years old when Patrick died in 461 AD. If you believe he died later, however, in 493 AD, it may have been possible, although it's still not altogether likely.  
In some upper-class European societies, the custom of denial involved buying 12 pairs of gloves for the woman you were rejecting. To hide her shame at not having a ring to wear, of course! In some places, February 29 has been renamed Bachelors' Day because of the tradition.  There is also precedent for the tradition in English law. February 29 was ignored and had no legal status. People believed that traditions would also have no status on that day as it was not a legal day and so it was possible to have women propose, altering an unfair custom that allowed only men to propose marriage.
Here in the United States, the tradition was also celebrated with some people referring to February 29 as Sadie Hawkins' Day. On this allotted day of the four-year cycle, women, allegedly, have the right the right to run after unmarried men to propose. Sadie Hawkins was a female character in the Al Capp comic strip "Li'l Abner" who inspired Sadie Hawkins Dances where girls would ask boys to attend. Poor St Oswald was also cast with the women as his feast day was placed on February 29. Celebrating it on the proper day when possible, his feast day is more commonly remembered on February 28. 

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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