Leap year proposals: What is the tradition? Why do women propose on leap year?

Leap year come around (just about) every four years, adding February 29 to the calendar. The practice keeps the Gregorian Calendar in alignment with the earth’s revolutions around the sun, but has plenty of traditions and folklore associated with it.

Why do women propose on leap year?

One of the most common traditions is that women are “allowed” to propose to men on February 29.

The exact origins of this tradition are not really known, but two possible sources are referred to in the history books.

One is Queen Margaret of Scotland, who was said to have passed a law in 1288 declaring that women could propose every 29 February.

There is no record of this, however, and Queen Margaret was only five-years-old at that time.


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A more commonly credited source is that the tradition originated from a deal struck between Saint Bridget and Saint Patrick.

The deal allowed women to initiate dances and propose marriage on leap days.

If a man refused, he would have to pay a fine in the form of a new gown, gloves or a kiss.

This became known as Bachelor’s Day, which is thought to have originated in Ireland.

Other leap year marriage superstitions

Other parts of the world have different folklore surrounding leap year and marriage.

In Greece, for example, marriage in a leap year is considered unlucky, with one in five engaged couples in Greece avoiding getting married in a leap year.

In Finland, if a man refuses a leap year proposal, he has to buy the woman fabrics for a skirt.


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Why do we have leap years?

Leap years are held to prevent our calendar slipping forward in time too much which would throw off our seasons.

The common belief is that it takes the earth one year to travel once around the sun, it’s actually not quite that simple.

In fact, it takes the planet 365.242189 days – or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds – to circle once around the Sun. This is called a Tropical year.

So without adding February 29 every four years we would lose almost six hours every year.

In that case, after 100 years, we’d be off by about 24 days in relation to things which govern our seasons on fixed days like the winter and summer solstice.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian Calendar, which we still use to this day.

Now, we add a leap day every four years, unless that year is divisible by 100 – but the 100 rule doesn’t apply if the year is divisible by 400!

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