Leap Year Traditions

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image courtesy of the times dispatch (Richmond, VA.)
February 29, 1912 [page 9, image 9]

Ancient history states that in Ireland, St Brigid of Kildare complained to St Patrick that women waited too long to have men propose to them. St Patrick deemed February 29th (leap day) every four years the one day a woman could propose to a man.


1940s advertisement

Writing to her father, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1860, Ellen Tucker Emerson described a ‘‘leap-year party,’’

acknowledging perhaps you don’t know what that is. The girls take the part which gentlemen usually take … The boys all sat round the room, the girls didn’t sit down and when a cotillion was announced they walked up to the boys and asked if they might have the pleasure of dancing with them and offered their arms, which the boys took and walk out. After the dance they promenaded leaning on the girls’ arms and being fanned. It was very funny and they all had a rousing time.

This quote is taken from Katherine Parkin’s article “‘Glittering Mockery’: Twentieth-Century Leap Year Marriage Proposals” in the Journal of Family History January 2012 volume 37 no. 1,  pages 85-104.

This is probably the start of the Sadie Hawkins Dance. Mental Floss tells us that it came from the mind of Al Capp, cartoonist for the  Li’l Abner comics, on November 15, 1937.


Li’l Abner was set in Dogpatch, and one of Dogpatch’s residents, Hekzebiah Hawkins, had a daughter referred to as “the homeliest gal in all them hills.” When Miss Sadie Hawkins reached the age of 35 and still had not found a man to marry her (oh, the horror!!), her father put his foot down and declared it Sadie Hawkins Day. Shotgun in hand, the bumpkin declared, “When ah fires, all o’ yo’ kin start a-runnin! When ah fires agin—after givin’ yo’ a fair start—Sadie starts a runnin’. Th’ one she ketches’ll be her husbin.”

Vintage advertisements and trade cards showcased the Leap Year marriage proposal and chase, as well.

Slate magazine illustrated this idea of women proposing to men for Leap Year with postcards from the 1900s.

Why every four years?

The 366th day of the year, arriving once every four years based on the Gregorian calendar. Unless the year is evenly divisible by 100 and not evenly divisible by 400. Let the Daily morning Astorian (Astoria, OR.) explain on February 28, 1884.


Happy Leap Year ! See you in Four Years! 


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