Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Leap Year and its extra day of February 29th is, in Western culture, traditionally the day when a woman can propose to a man.

This tradition is said to date from 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. St. Patrick then said that females could propose on this one day in February during the leap year. Bridget then proposed to St. Patrick, who graciously declined, but gave her a kiss and a beautiful silk dress as consolation.

In the 13th century, Scotland (allegedly) passed a law allowing women to propose to a man on February 29th. Any man who declined had to pay a fine, which might be anything from a kiss to a silk dress.

In some European countries, tradition dictated that any man who declined a woman’s proposal on February 29th had to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. Evidently the woman could wear the gloves to hide her ‘embarrassment’ at not having an engagement ring.

In these days of supposed gender equality, I started to wonder whether this tradition is now an anachronism. Society no longer ‘prohibits’ women from proposing, but does ‘custom’ still expect the man to propose?

Do we expect the man to take the initiative in our romance novels too? Or should the independent modern women we create in our novels today propose to their men?

What do the readers of romance novels want? Do they still want the man to propose, preferably in some romantic setting: candlelit dinner in luxury restaurant, exotic Caribbean beach, under the bridges of Paris– etc etc? Or are modern women quite happy to accept a woman’s proposal in a romance novel?


  1. I must say I still love the old traditions. We still believed in Yorkshire that they had to buy you a silk frock if they refused. Never heard of the gloves one before, though.

  2. I'm a traditionalist in some respects, too, Jenny. I still like the 'old-fashioned' courtesies that some feminists deride.
    Thanks for visitng us at HWH :-)

  3. Great post. I always love it when I learn something new.

    I guess I'm a traditional gal. I think the 'right' way to do it is to have the man propose. I'e had two of my heroes propose 'on the page' in my books. I don't think I've ever given a thought to having the heroine do it.

  4. I didn't know this. Fascinating!
    I suggested to my husband that we get married and he agreed. Not the classic romantic scene, but it has some charm. Would that do well in a romance?

  5. Guess I am an old fashioned girl because I think the man should be the one to propose in real life and in fiction. Great post!


  6. Debra, I had one of my heroes propose. With the others, I've left the reader to assume that the hero and heroine, having overcome all their conflicts and problems, would marry, probably sooner rather than later!

  7. Ana, I think it could definitely work in some stories - and actually it would make for a good "Leap Day short story' maybe? Well, I've got another four years to figure that one out!

  8. Thanks, Kathy. I think I'm like you - an old-fashioned girl!

  9. I'm also old fashioned when it comes to proposals. I think it's perfectly acceptable for the couple to discuss it, but when the time comes, in my opinion, I really like it when the man proposes (although I've seen the woman propose well in movies and on TV and I love Ana's). Don't like the man being punished for saying no, though--I want him to want me for me, not because he's afraid of the punishment.

  10. Good point about the punishment, Jen!