Leap Day   4 comments

Tradition, Folklore and Superstition

A tradition was introduced many centuries ago to allow women to propose to men during a leap year. This privilege of proposing was restricted to leap day in some areas. Leap day was sometimes known as “Bachelors’ Day”. A man was expected to pay a penalty, such as a gown or money, if he refused a marriage offer from a woman.  The tradition’s origin stemmed from an old Irish tale referring to St Bridget striking a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men every four years. This old custom was probably made to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how the leap day balances the calendar.

The Four-Armed SweaterIn 1972, a Leap Year, I was 16-years-old and had received my boyfriend’s high school class ring over Thanksgiving weekend 1971.  That class ring was a long eight months in coming counting from that evening of the first mutual “I love you’s” in early March.  However, the relationship moved at a rapid pace from that Thanksgiving weekend onward.  It was around that time that he, a college student from the Iron Range of Minnesota attending school in my hometown of Akron, Ohio, wondered if I would be interested in going home to Hibbing, Minnesota with him over Christmas break and spending the holiday with his folks.  I was interested, but of course, my parents weren’t too thrilled with the idea of me getting into a Volkswagen with a young man for a 1000-mile trip to Hibbing!  Eventually, however, my parents gave their reluctant consent, probably because things were in such a turmoil at home and Christmas there was destined to be a tense one.  (An aside: my father took that opportunity while I was out of the house for two weeks to move his stuff out and into a two-bedroom apartment.  That was the news I came home to about as soon as I walked in the door on the evening of January 2, 1972.)

For some reason, I have a clear impression of when I first knew I was going to marry this man.  It was during that trip from Akron, Ohio to our overnight stop along the way at his sister’s house in a northern suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  We had just made the long, tiring trip across Wisconsin, a state that seems to go on and on forever when one is driving all the way across it.  We had reached the Wisconsin-Minnesota border.  The bridge across the St. Croix River greeted us.  We passed the sign next to that bridge that proclaims, “Welcome to Minnesota!”  He reached over, squeezed my hand, and gave me an emotional little smile that was probably part barely-contained homesickness.  “Welcome home, babe!” he said.  

I squeezed his hand in return and felt a bond there that went to the bottom of my heart.  And I just knew I was going to marry this man and spend many, many years with him!

A couple of weeks later, just a day or two into the new year, I mentioned to him that I heard there was a tradition that women could ask men to marry them in Leap Year.  Yes, he allowed that he had heard of such a tradition.  “So, will you marry me?” I asked.

“I might consider it,” he replied, chuckling, “but I think it only counts if you propose on Leap Day!  You’re going to have to ask again on February 29!”

February 29, 1972 came around.  “Isn’t there something you wanted to ask me?” he wanted to know. 

“Yes,” I admitted, “and you know what it is.  I already asked you!”

“But now it’s the official day.  Today’s the day you have to ask!”

I wasn’t embarrassed the first time I had asked him in January, but for some reason I was on February 29th.  I managed to muster up my courage and get the words out (NOT on bended knee, though!)  “Will you marry me?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said simply.

We didn’t officially announce our engagement until early June.  At least, by that point I could say that I was going to be a senior in high school!  I was engaged my entire senior year at St. Mary’s High School, and we got married on June 21, 1973, three weeks after my graduation.

And it was all my idea.  I was the one who officially asked for his hand in marriage!


Posted February 29, 2008 by StPaulieGrrl in Baby Boomers, marriage, Minnesota

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4 responses to “Leap Day

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  1. Thank you. I think congratulations are in order as well! I think we’ve done quite well considering the marriage proposal came from a half-baked 16-year-old!

  2. Well, I would have to say at this stage of my life’s experiences I would never encourage a 16-year-old to propose to her boyfriend, or even accept his proposal! However, I was not a typical youth, and I did the best I could.

  3. I had never heard of that tradition. What a great story though. And congrats on romance that still burns on today!

  4. Honest, Bryan, I didn’t make up this tradition just so I could do something funky and propose to my boyfriend! 😉 Thanks for the congrats!

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