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What’s the Deal with Women Being ‘Allowed’ to Propose During Leap Years?

Irish folklore claims we have St. Patrick to thank for this unique tradition.


As you may have noticed while looking at the calendar this month, February has an extra day tacked onto it. Leap years occur because the Earth’s orbit around the sun doesn’t fit perfectly into the 365 days we usually count, but that’s just boring space talk. Have you heard the much more intriguing Irish tradition of women being “allowed” to propose to their significant others when these years roll around?

First of all, we all know women can do whatever they want whenever they want. (Well, within reason and legalities, of course.) But the idea of ladies flipping the script to get down on one knee instead of waiting on their man to finally do it dates back hundreds of years. We’re talking long, long before the 2010 Amy Adams movie Leap Year, folks. 

According to Aoife McElwain, a writer for The Irish Times, it is difficult to pin down exactly when or why the tradition became such a thing. Many believe it goes back to the fifth century when St. Brigid of Kildare made a deal with none other than St. Patrick himself on behalf of all women in Ireland who had grown increasingly tired of suiters taking too long to put a ring on it. St. Patrick allegedly agreed to let woman do the proposing when the extra day rolled around on February 29th every four years. So kind of him, right?

There’s very little evidence that any of that is true, but it hasn’t stopped women from continuing the tradition. Claims also vary as to whether the folklore is pinned solely to February 29 (sometimes known as Bachelor’s Day) or throughout an entire leap year.

Despite the murky history, McElwain followed it herself by proposing to her boyfriend on February 29, 2012, though she was a bit hesitant. She had support from both of their families and got the blessing of her future mother-in-law, but the stigma around women proposing to men unfortunately still lingered elsewhere.

“There were one or two raised eyebrows from male friends who gave me the impression that they would be horrified if their partners proposed to them,” she wrote. She also didn’t love people telling her she “must have been in a terrible rush to get married.” (Note: She had been with her boyfriend for five years at the time.)

McElwain put it simply, “I just wanted to propose to the man I loved, so that he would know just how much I love him.” Thankfully, her boyfriend didn’t share the same mindset of her less-enlightened male friends. “When I looked up into Niall’s face… The look he gave back to me was the one I had hoped I would see in all of my visions of how the proposal might go. He looked upon me as an equal, as someone he loved, and someone that he wanted to say yes to.” The pair tied the knot two years later, and despite the array of unwelcome and welcome opinions about a Leap Day proposal, McElwain is happy to have the fun story. 

Although the tradition may not be rooted in any actual historical decree or evidence, it can clearly be a delightful way for women to show their significant others they want to spend the rest of their lives with together. That said, there’s no reason to wait four years for a leap year if you feel like popping the question. It’s all about following your heart! What could be sweeter than that?

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