Why Women Propose on Leap Year Day
The year 2020 is a leap year, and there are many traditions and folklore surrounding both leap years and the date of February 29th.
A leap year only comes around every four years ostensibly to synchronize the calendar year with the season, and 2020 is one of them. Non-leap years are called common years. The Gregorian calendar is not the only one that adds days to keep it on track. The Hebrew calendar adds a 13th month within its cycles to keep the seasons and calendar synchronous. On February 29, there are many traditions and folklore that make it fun.
Gender Role Reversals
Traditionally, men have proposed to women when it comes to marriage. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that a woman might appear desperate or too aggressive if they were the ones who proposed. The first legend of a woman having the option to propose is from the fifth century, when the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, granted permission to single women who had shy suitors to propose marriage. It’s thought that St. Brigid of Kildare requested that this tradition happen every leap year.
There’s another tradition that says Queen Margaret put a law on the books requiring a man to pay a fine if he turned the lady down, typically in the form of a pair of gloves, a flower and one pound. However, it’s unlikely that Queen Margaret actually did put the law into motion, because she was only five at the time the said law went into effect.
In Finland, the custom is that the man buys the woman fabrics for a skirt. In the 17th century, it is thought that women would wear a scarlet petticoat if they were going to take advantage of leap year and propose. This gave the potential groom fair warning.
These traditions are most likely the precursor to Sadie Hawkins Day, which is the United States’ folk tradition celebrated on the first Saturday after November 9th. It’s a gender role reversal day when women and girls take the initiative to invite men on a date or even to propose marriage. Feminists of today believe the holiday is outdated, but some actually say that the tradition can empower women.
In 2010, Amy Adams starred in “Leap Year,” a movie that relates to the tradition of leap year. The character, Anna, follows her boyfriend to Dublin to propose on February 29. Through twists and turns, Anna is of course foiled, travels throughout Ireland and must face the truth about her relationship. It’s a fun and interesting movie.
Leap Year Traditions
In Greece, it’s considered unlucky to get married during the leap year. That must be rough on the wedding industry, because at least 20 percent of couples will avoid getting married during a leap year. In Greek culture, it’s also considered bad luck to start anything new during the leap year, whether it be baptizing a child, starting a business, or taking off on a journey. According to superstition, a marriage or engagement that begins in a leap year will undoubtedly end in a tragedy, such as divorce or death.
In Ukraine, the saint for February 29 is Cassian, who is said to have brought sickness to animals and people with a single gaze. According to legend, Cassian once refused to help a peasant get his cart out of the mud, which prompted God to limit Cassian to one saint’s day every four years. Ukrainians protect their animals and their families by staying inside on February 29. They also won’t marry on the day.
In Today’s Culture
Many people wonder if women really need a special day or year to propose to their partner. There have been some interesting proposals that have reached fame on the television and radio. Women just get tired of waiting for their partner to take the first step. Depending on what your cultural background is, this will ultimately determine whether you feel comfortable taking the step toward marriage during a leap year.
The Bald Eagle: An American Symbol Before America Existed
Before it was a US national emblem, the Bald Eagle held special significance within the religious beliefs and legends of several Indigenous cultures.
Eagles are commonly regarded as majestic and powerful creatures. As birds of prey, they’re members of the order Accipitriformes, which also includes many other types of raptors such as hawks, kites, and ospreys. They have captured humankind’s imagination for millennia, as proven by myths from around the world as well as the bald eagle’s place as a recognizable symbol for the United States. Yet before this bird was chosen as a US national emblem, it held special significance within the religious beliefs and legends of several Indigenous American cultures.
The Eagle’s Significance in Pre-Colonial America
Eagles can be found in the stories of many civilizations all over Turtle Island. Most bestowed honored tasks and roles upon these birds, crediting them as divine messengers or chiefs among the birds. In an article discussing the bald eagle’s recovery from near extinction, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service offered a short list of these legends:
- One Navajo story depicts a warrior changing one of a slain monster’s offspring into an eagle to prevent it from growing up and adopting evil ways.
- Among the Dene peoples of Alaska and northwestern Canada, the eagle embodies gratitude in its offerings of food during lean times to a prince who’d fed it salmon when sustenance was plentiful.
- The Pawnee regard the eagle as a fertility symbol thanks to its tendency to nest high above the ground and its attentive watch over its young.
An archived 2003 piece from Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center details even more evidence. Various artifacts have been discovered showing how Indigenous cultures venerated eagles, including their features in headdresses and other clothing items.
An Endangered Species Returns to Greatness
Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” called attention to the devastating effects of careless pesticide use on our ecosystems. Writing for American Bird Conservancy, Rebecca Heisman discusses how Carson’s emphasis on DDT’s impacts on bird populations helped launch environmental activity and new government policies. The bald eagle was one species that benefitted from these activities, as it was granted legal protections in 1978. Thanks to the growth of its populations, it was removed from the endangered species list in 2007.
Modern Use of Eagle Feathers
Eagle feathers are still considered sacred today by many Indigenous people. As one Mohawk man explained to independent historian Glenn Welker, wearing or holding these feathers is thought to honor, and gains attention from, the Divine. Feathers are also included in ceremonial regalia and used in the Sun Dance rites of Great Plains cultures to carry prayers of the sick to the Creator. The Pawnee Nation’s website explains the significance of eagle feathers in how its flag is displayed. This banner is customarily attached to an old Pawnee lance with a spearhead at its tip. Affixed to it are four eagle feathers, representing the four bands that comprise the entire nation.
Currently, U.S. federal laws govern the possession and use of eagle feathers. However, they restrict ownership to individuals who can prove that they’re members of federally recognized tribes. Continued controversy surrounds these statutes, especially because those unable to document their Native ancestry are shut out of the process. A June 2015 Arizona Public Media piece also divulges that the waiting list for eagle feathers is lengthy, with potential recipients getting their requested feathers after several months.
A Magnificent Bird With Timeless Symbolism
The American bald eagle holds a distinctive place in many Indigenous American cultures. Once threatened with possible extinction, this species has made a major comeback over the last several decades. Contemporary legal realities pose challenges for Native people wishing to use their feathers for ceremonial and religious purposes. Nevertheless, reverence for the creatures continues into the 21st century.