Happy Leap Year, everybody! Any idea why we add an extra day to the calendar for no apparent reason every year? Understand why Amy Adams made a movie about the long-lost tradition of dragging your boyfriend to Ireland to essentially force him into marrying you? Not to worry, we’ll cover it all.
Leap Day became incorporated into the end of the calendar due to some classic bad math. You see, the year is made up of 365 days because that’s how long it takes Earth to rotate around the sun. But it’s not, actually -- it’s made up of 365.2421 days. Not exactly a perfectly divisible number. The Egyptians had figured out long before anyone else that the solution was simple: Throw an extra day on the calendar every four years (.2421 was close enough to one quarter to them -- who cares about cutting corners?).
Alas, that rounding up mattered. When Julius Caesar and the astronomer Sosigenes got together to create the calendar, they figured out that that tiny mathematical discrepancy meant that the calendar year would end up beginning a day before the Earth actually completed its rotation around the sun every 128 years. The calendar was a full 10 days ahead of the Earth by the time they caught on.
The issue was fixed by 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII created the Gregorian calendar, which is basically what we still use today. He mandated that Leap Days would happen every four years, but must be ignored during years that are evenly divisible by 100 but not by 400. If this is getting too math-y for you, I totally understand.
Point is, a Leap Day ends up being every four years, but sometimes we have to skip it for even more consecutive years, and this all may have to change anyway at some point, like, 10,000 years in the future.
Whoever said math was straightforward was seriously disturbed.
So, OK, but what does that have to do with women only proposing to their boyfriends on Leap Day?
Also called Bachelor’s Day, the tradition of woman-to-man marriage proposals supposedly dates back to the 5th century, when Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid were at odds. Brigid, like the feminist bad*ss she obviously was, wanted women to be able to ask men to marry them -- she claimed that many women were growing impatient with their shy suitors. Patrick acquiesced, but on the condition that it would only be allowed for 24 hours every four years. Ugh, men, right?
The legend goes on to say that Brigid dropped to a knee right then and there, but bonehead Patrick turned her down (though he offered her a silk gown to make up for it). Be warned, fellas: If you turn down a Leap Day marriage proposal, you, too, will owe your (ex?) girlfriend a silk gown.
The tradition goes on elsewhere, too: In Finland, for example, women are encouraged to propose on Leap Day, and if their man declines, he has to pay her a fine. Love that for them!
In Scotland, as well, Queen Margaret supposedly passed a law that said if a woman were to propose, it had to be on Leap Day and she had to wear a red petticoat to “warn” her intended in advance.
These stories are a little wobbly, though, as some scholars say Saint Brigid was only 9 or 10 years old when Saint Patrick died in 461 A.D., so did she really propose to him? Similarly, Scotland’s Margaret would have been 5 years old at the time of her law and likely more concerned with naptime than feminism.
As are most societal truths, Leap Day is based partly in science, partly in legend and partly in just pure habit, at this point.