29 February is an extra day – what will you be doing?
29 February 2012

Every four years there is a Leap Year, with an extra day in the calendar. Each country has its own traditions about what can happen on 29 February, and since 2012 is a Leap Year, you may want to find out what to expect in the UK.

Why is the extra day called a Leap Day in the UK? Hundreds of years ago the Leap Day, 29 February, was not in the law books. This meant it was ignored, or "leaped" (jumped) over.

Is there something special women can do on 29 February? For centuries, it was traditional for men to ask women to marry them. Women had to wait for men to "propose" to them. On 29 February, women were allowed to ask men to marry them instead. People thought that as the day had no legal status, then traditions could be ignored.

There is an old story that 1,500 years ago a nun called St Bridget asked the Irish St Patrick for women to have more right to choose their own husbands. The story says that he agreed that women could have this one day, every four years. It also says she then proposed to St Patrick, who refused. But he did give her a nice dress.

There is another (wrong) story that Queen Margaret of Scotland declared that women had the right to ask men to marry them on 29 February. Men who refused had to give the woman either a kiss, a silk dress, or a pair of gloves.

Other forms of the story say that the proposal isn't valid unless the woman is wearing a red underskirt.

Do many women ask men to marry them on Leap Day? It is probably less common now for couples to wait for the man to propose to the woman. But there is a lot of interest in the February 29 tradition and women do use it to ask their boyfriends to marry them.

Are there any other Leap Day traditions in the UK? Scottish people think it is very unlucky to be born on 29 February. Children in the UK who are born on this date legally become 18 and therefore adult on 1 March of the correct year.


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