This is why women are 'allowed' to propose on 29 February

Friday, 28th February 2020, 12:18 pm
Updated Friday, 28th February 2020, 12:19 pm
Would you propose to your other half on a leap day (Photo: Shutterstock)

A leap year is an event that only comes around once every four years, where February is one day longer than normal.

We’ll be treated to a 29 February in 2020 and, traditionally, women are ‘allowed’ to propose to their significant other on that date.

Where does the proposal tradition come from?

According to tradition, women are permitted to propose to their other half during a leap year - and specifically on 29 February itself.

The origin of the tradition is said to stem from ancient Irish history, beginning in the fifth century, in Ireland.

It is believed that a nun named Saint Bridget complained to Saint Patrick that women had to wait too long for their suitors to propose. Legend has it that Saint Patrick then decreed that women could have the opportunity to pop the question - but only on a particular day in February, every four years.

Proposal day penalties

It is believed that the Irish tradition permitting women to propose on one day every four years was then taken to Scotland by Irish monks.

In 1288, Scotland passed a law that allowed a woman to propose marriage 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.

This has also become commonplace in many European countries, with tradition stating men who turn down a woman’s proposal on a leap day should pay a penalty. The fine could consist of a new gown, money, or more unusually, 12 pairs of gloves for the lady.

It is also said that women were expected to wear either breeches or a scarlet petticoat while they were down on one knee.

Theories have also suggested that the tradition originates from the time when leap days were not recognised by English law. As such, it was permissible for women to break the convection of a man proposing, and the day technically had no legal status.

When is the next leap year?

Leap years occur once every four years, with the next leap day due to fall on 29 February 2024.

The extra days come at the end of February, after being introduced by Julias Caesar in 45 BC. In the Julian calendar, February was the last month of the year, so it was logical to add the extra day onto the end of this month.

However, there are exceptions to when leap years occur - the year has to be exactly divisible by four, except for years that are exactly divisible by 400.

In these so-called ‘centurial’ years, it is only a leap year if they are exactly divisible by 400.