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Irish Tradition Leap Year
Ryan & O’Donnell / Blog / Irish / Irish Tradition Leap Year
Irish Leap year traditions
February 29th. Date which repeats on leap year. Calendar (rare days) concept.

Welcome to 2024, a Leap Year! In the realm of Irish traditions, there’s a unique and charming custom tied to the extra day we get every four years. It’s a day when women could break with convention and propose to their suitors, and this special day falls on February 29.

The roots of this tradition delve into Irish history, where February 29th stands out as a day set aside for women to take charge and pop the question. If you glance at your calendar this year, you’ll observe the anomaly of February extending to 29 days, marking 2024 as a leap year, just like 2008.

The film “Leap Year” capitalizes on this tradition to tell a romantic comedy story. Released in 2010 and starring Amy Adams, the movie portrays a woman who takes advantage of the Leap Year tradition to propose to her boyfriend. However, the story line takes a twist as she encounters various challenges while traveling across Ireland to reach her fiancé.

While the movie has gained popularity, especially among fans of romantic comedies, it has also faced criticism, particularly from some Irish viewers who found the portrayal of Ireland’s landscapes and customs in the film to be stereotypical or exaggerated. Despite mixed reviews, “Leap Year” has become a part of popular culture, contributing to the enduring fascination with the Leap Year tradition.

So, as we navigate through this Leap Year, let’s not only revel in the extra day but also appreciate the cultural richness and endearing traditions that come with it, especially the Irish tradition that allows women to take the lead in matters of the heart every February 29th.

Looking back through ancient Irish history, the Leap Year tradition is said to have originated in the 5th century in Ireland. Legend has it that St. Brigid of Kildare, dissatisfied with the prolonged wait for men to propose, complained to St. Patrick. In response, St. Patrick decreed that women could propose on a specific day in February during the leap year.

The origins of this tradition, whether rooted in actual events or folklore, remain uncertain. By the 1800s, however, the Leap Year tradition was well-established in Ireland. The Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Collection from 1937 to 1939 provides additional insights, with accounts suggesting that the tradition continued into the 20th century. In County Clare, for example, it was believed that every girl looked for a man in a leap year, and in Drumshambo, County Leitrim, the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday was dubbed Puss Sunday, particularly for unmarried girls.

This tradition was carried to Scotland by Irish monks, and in 1288, the Scots enacted a law allowing women to propose to men during a leap year. The law included a provision that any man declining such a proposal would be required to pay a fine. Queen Margaret, allegedly the proponent of the law, mandated that women proposing wear a red petticoat, and fines ranged from a kiss to compensation for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

The Leap Year tradition, known by various names such as Bachelor’s Day or the Ladies’ Privilege, is not unique to Ireland but extends its influence as similar customs existed in Scotland, Finland, and various countries around Europe and further afield. In the United States, the Leap Year tradition found a different expression with February 29 being referred to as Sadie Hawkins’ Day.

So, ladies, if you’re tired of waiting to hear the question, why not pop it yourself and take advantage of ladies privilege this year with a trip to some of the romantic places in Ireland? And gentlemen – remember if you were to get hitched on February 29th you only have to remember your anniversary once every four years!

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