Leap after him

Leap years have traditionally been the time when women are allowed to propose marriage.

Leap years have traditionally been the time when women are allowed to propose marriage.

In many cultures today, it is okay for a woman to propose marriage to a man. Society does not look down on such women.

But that has not 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 29.

It is believed that the tradition started in the 5th Century in Ireland when St Bridget complained to St Patrick that women had to wait too long to propose marriage. Legend has it that St Patrick decided that it was okay for yearning females to propose every leap year.

According to English law, February 29 was ignored and had no legal status.

People assumed that traditions would also have no status on that day. It was also thought 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 gave men the prerogative to propose marriage.

The first documentation of this practice dates back to 1288, when Scotland passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to men of their choice. It also became law that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year had to pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss, to payment for a pair of gloves or a silk dress.

In the US some people refer to this date 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 cartoon strip Li'l Abner.

Many communities prefer to celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day in November, which is when Al Capp first mentioned Sadie Hawkins Day.

But a Greek superstition claims that couples have bad luck if they marry in a leap year. Apparently one in five engaged couples in Greece will avoid planning their wedding during a leap year. - www.marriage.about.com