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The origin of the Irish tradition in which women ask men to marry them.

The history of the leap year dates back to 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar due to its shorter length compared to ours and its lunar-based months. After discovering the Egyptian calendar, Julius Caesar consulted the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to design a new system. They agreed that each solar year in the Julian calendar would have 365.25 days, adjusting the months to be similar to those we recognize today. Additionally, an extra day was added to the shortest month every four years to compensate for the annual accumulation of a quarter of a day.

The peculiarities of the leap year extend beyond that. Around the world, this day that occurs once every four years has given rise to various traditions, beliefs, and customs celebrated on February 29th. One such tradition, of Irish origin, is the opportunity for women to propose marriage to their partners. Though not as unusual nowadays, the tradition designates this day specifically for women to propose to their boyfriends.

En la imagen se muestra una mujer pidiendo matrimonio a un hombre

Leap Year proposal, reversing the roles

While a woman can propose to her male partner on any day of the year, in the 5th century, Ireland reserved this right specifically for leap years. It is said that this tradition originated in 5th-century Ireland when Saint Brigid of Kildare expressed her discontent to Saint Patrick about women having to wait too long for men to propose. Upon hearing the complaint, legend has it that Saint Patrick decreed that women could propose only on this one day in February

Later, Irish monks brought this tradition to Scotland. In 1288, the Scots passed a law allowing women to propose to the man of their dreams during leap years. Supposedly approved by Queen Margaret, the law stipulated that women making the proposal must wear a red petticoat while doing so. Furthermore, any man who rejected the proposal that day would face a fine. In some European upper-class societies, the custom of rejection involved buying a dozen gloves for the woman who was rejected, to hide the embarrassment of not having a ring.

In the United States, the tradition of Sadie Hawkins Day is celebrated on February 29th, where women supposedly have the right to propose marriage to single men. This led to the popularization of Sadie Hawkins dances, where girls invite boys.

Engagement, yes, but don’t marry on February 29th!

Contrary to Irish customs, in Greece, it is believed that February 29th brings bad luck. Couples are advised against marrying on that date, with the warning that those who do will face divorce and never find true love. This superstition likely originates from the Romans, who conquered Greece in 146 B.C. and brought with them the belief that February was the month of the dead. The belief was that an extra day meant the god of the underworld was free to walk the earth.

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