Taking The Leap
Updated: May 27
Today is Bachelor's Day!
Bachelor’s Day is a leap day tradition in certain parts of the world; mostly in United Kingdom. This tradition tosses out gender norms and women propose marriage to their male partners.
The origin of the tradition is said to stem from ancient history, beginning in the fifth century, in Ireland.
It is believed that a nun named Saint Bridget came to Saint Patrick concerned 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.
It is believed that this Irish tradition 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.
The fine could consist of a new gown, money - or in some upper-class European societies, the custom of denial involved buying 12 pairs of gloves for the woman you were rejecting. One pair for every month to properly conceal her hands and her shame for not having a ring to wear.
Eventually, word about this tradition reached America.
Historian Katherine Parkin of Monmouth University suggests that although one would imagine it to be an empowering tradition for women, the custom was not embraced as such.
Postcards from as early as 1908 portrayed women as domineering figures over their male partners. “The images clearly convey the ugliness and desperateness of these women,” Parkin told The Washington Post in 2016.
In a 2011 article in the Journal of Family History, Parkin explained that women who proposed in the early 20th century were mocked and belittled in popular culture. “Scorned and ridiculed for trespassing against male privilege, along with those who wore pants or participated in politics, female proposers learned that seeking rights threatened those who held power,” Parkin wrote.
“In the end, the leap year custom ironically helped ensure that men continued to hold the power in matters of matrimony.”
In some places in the U.K., February 29 has been renamed Bachelors' Day.
Leap years occur once every four years, with the next leap day due to fall on February, 29 2024.