February 29, 2012

A Gun to Cupid's Head: Or, Celebrating Leap-Day

A hundred years ago, it was common knowledge in America that women were allowed to propose to men during leap years. (Most believed that the reversal held for the entire year, though proposal mania usually peaked in January and February.) The exact origins of the tradition are murky; one myth traces the tradition to an agreement between St. Patrick and St. Bridget in the fifth century, while another purports that Queen Margaret of Scotland instituted a law fining men who said no to a woman who proposed on leap day. Both of these origin stories are highly unlikely; the tradition didn’t enter the cultural lexicon until the 18th century and didn’t really catch on until the early 20th century. 
Don't miss L. V. Anderson's neat piece on the history of the romantic traditions surrounding Leap Day (Slate), which links to this fantastic database of leap-day postcards from Monmouth University. Apparently this tradition was more a revolt of the "underdog" (women) using humor to subvert social conventions. No longer did she have to sit at home waiting. She could sally forth and get her man.

The conclusion of the article, however, leaves a sour taste in my mouth: really, must we rail against all convention, even one as charming as a proposal from your man? Is an accepted proposal somehow less worthy when the man makes the suit, simply because men used to always make the suit. I propose an alternative, which Mr. Newton described this morning:
Yet I do think that on the whole, there is something permanently, infinitely laudable about a lady who does value herself highly, enough to demonstrate it by the way she looks and behaves in public. ...this has to do with the question of whether the lady thinks about the impact she will have on others. ...Let the ladies among us remember: the power to set standards for how we ought to look and behave toward others is firmly in their hands. It is not limited to Leap Day, Leap Year, or any other holiday. One hopes that they may use that power for good.

Anyway: Are you celebrating Leap Day?  The reactions of everyone to leap day this year have been very funny.  People want to celebrate, but what do we really celebrate today?  The National Catholic Register suggests celebrating St. Oswald, whose feast only comes around every four years (too bad, since he was clearly awesome). Alternately, you could wear yellow and blue and pray for a miracle from Leap Day Williams. (Tell me you haven't missed the fantastic 30 Rock Leap Day Episode. Best of the season.) Just promise me you won't watch Leap Year(Oh, Amy Adams, and I thought you could do no wrong.)

Will I celebrate? If watching the penultimate episode of Downton Abbey, and probably being so stressed out by it that I break my Lenten fast and eating something sweet counts as celebrating Leap Dap, then, heck yes, I am! Meanwhile, take a cue from The Washington Post and call your Mother (cf. footnote #2/3).


  1. I'm wearing jeans, maybe that counts? :)

  2. Watching Downton Abbey makes me stressed too. Especially Jane and Lord Grantham. Agh!

  3. You are most kind, dear lady. :-)