Leap Year: how true is the Irish proposal tradition?

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Leap Year is a movie released in 2010, starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. The film landed on Netflix in 2023 and quickly became one of the most streamed items on the platform: people enjoyed the romantic mood and the filming locations, which show the fascinating views of Ireland. The whole plot is based on an Irish tradition, according to which women have the chance to make an official engagement proposal to men on a leap year, on February 29. People, of course, got curious to know how real that tradition is: let’s find out!

You can watch the official trailer for Leap Year here on Youtube.

Leap Year: how true is the Irish proposal tradition in the movie?

Yes, the Irish proposal tradition according to which women can propose to men on a leap year is true. It’s called Ladies’ Privilege, or Bachelor Day, as this article by Ireland Before You Die explains. This tradition intends to break the standard habit where men have to be the ones to propose: introducing this exception, once every four years, a woman can use that right and invite her man to take the decision and say “yes.”

Legend has it that the tradition has ancient origins: it started from an argument between Saint Brigid and Saint Patrick in the 5th century. Saint Brigid complained that men are too slow to propose, and women sometimes have to wait too much, so she begged Saint Patrick to give women the possibility to propose. Saint Patrick initially allowed one day every seven years, but Saint Brigid won the negotiation and obtained the Ladies’ Privilege once every four years. The choice fell onto February 29, a day that exists only on a leap year. That would also match an English tradition, according to which February 29 is not a legal day: in the past, only men were legally allowed to propose, but since that day law didn’t apply, it was chosen by women to overcome that rule and get the right to propose.

And since the goal is to facilitate weddings, according to that tradition, if men refuse, they will have to compensate the woman with an expensive present, typically silk or fur clothes. Another version of that tradition forces men who refuse ladies’ proposals on leap years to buy them gloves, to symbolically cover their hands and prevent showing that they don’t have an engagement ring.

Similar traditions are also present in other places, like Scotland of Finland. At some point in the 1800s, the practice also arrived in the United States, but it was ridiculized by cartoons and postcards that implied that women should not have that privilege. The leap year proposal tradition disappeared from the United States around 1980.

Leap Year is an enjoyable movie that helped spread knowledge about this old Irish tradition, winning romantic people over: another reason why spectators enjoyed the vision.

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