Leap year folklore:
Looking back through ancient Irish history, it is said that the tradition began in 5th century Ireland when St. Brigid of Kildare bitterly complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait far too long for men to propose. The legend says that St. Patrick decreed the women could propose on this one day in February during the leap year. I’m sure the women were thrilled.
The tradition was then taken to Scotland by Irish monks.
Back in 1288, the Scots passed a law that allowed a woman to propose marriage to the man of their dreams in a Leap Year with the law also stating that any man who declined the proposal on this day would have to pay a fine. … The fine to be paid if a man declined could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves. (James O’Shea, 2016 is a Leap Year – that means women can ask men to marry them.)
Sixteen centuries after Brigid had her little talk with Patrick, we still see women asking men to marry them as something unusual, worthy of comment. And sometimes it’s just plain awesome, as this couple shows us (listen to the man’s comments at the end to see just how thrilled he is by it all).
There’s biblical precedent for women choosing men, too.
Abigail Makes Her Proposal
In 1 Samuel 25 David and his men need supplies. He sends a message to a wealthy landowner, Nabal, asking for whatever help he can give. Nabal turns David down flat.
Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:10-11.)
David’s response spelled disaster for Nabal and his entire household.
David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. (1 Samuel 25:12-13.)
Things were not looking good for Nabal, so his wife Abigail took action. Taking a large supply of bread, wine, meat and fruit, she sent them ahead to David while she followed to plead with him herself.
When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. (1 Samuel 25:23-25.)
Abigail clearly was not honoring her husband’s decision, but rather taking charge of the household herself and begging peace from David in order to save her people. It worked. When she later told Nabal how narrowly he escaped David’s wrath, he had a heart attack and died. On hearing of Nabal’s death David “sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife.” (1 Samuel 25:39.)
You might think that this is nothing like the practice of women proposing marriage to men, since it explicitly says David is the one who did the asking. But look at Abigail’s actions. By way of insulting Nabal and pledging herself to David she essentially said, “My allegiance is to you, not my husband. Think of me as belonging to you.”
It may not be a wedding proposal along the lines of “David, will you marry me” but it sure is a proposal that if things work out she wouldn’t say no to him asking her. And that’s exactly how it did work out.
Within the context of her times, that was as close to a woman asking a man to marry her as she could probably get.