Clear as mud? Welcome to Leap Day 2012 when women all over the world can propose marriage, ask a guy out to dinner, or take him to a dance or to some other event they’d like company for, such as getting their oil changed at Jiffy Lube.
Tradition has it that if the man accepts, he’s fair game. If he refuses he must buy the affronted lady material with which to make a dress, or £ 1 and a rose—presumably whichever costs less. The rules aren’t very clear about this however, so hey—all you guys out there not in lock-down in your basement—you’re free to do as conscience dictates in this regard.
Made famous by (appropriately enough) a cartoonist who called it Sadie Hawkins Day, this most notorious of female mating rituals was promoted in 1937 by Andy Capp for the U.S. cartoon strip ‘Lil Abner. Strangely his female free-for-all first made its appearance, not on February 29th as you’d expect, but on November 15th. Apparently Sadie, “the homeliest gal in them hills,” would never get a man without having a chance to trap him on this once-every-four-year opportunity. For decades she kept the nation in stiches as her passionate pursuits were thwarted by man after canny man.
But husband-catching on Leap Day has much older origins than ‘Lil Abner and Dogpatch.
We can credit this strange tradition to the 5th century and Saint Brigit of Ireland who some say took pity on all the unwed, spurned Irish lasses of Kildare, Ireland. Asking St. Patrick to give the girls a break, he reluctantly allowed that once every four years on Feb. 29th they could have a go at marriage brokering themselves.
Turns out it wasn’t really an odd thing for her to ask. Brigit had a vested interest in women having a choice in marital proceedings which, back in those days, were little more than poorly disguised economic transactions selling daughters to the highest bidder, netting their families land, gold, cattle, camels and political connections.
Brigit (considered by many to be the original feminist) was not only famous for producing miracles, founding abbeys and starting schools. Legend has it she was also a girl who, distraught over her parent’s choice of husband, gouged out her own eye to dissuade her suitor—appearing to him in all her beauty and marriageable finery, right eye dangling from its socket.
Needless to say she never saw him again—with either eye.
She healed herself as soon as he ran screaming out the door, thus conducting her first miracle. After that performance her parents decided it was best to let her make her own choices in life and she went on to lead a highly successful career as a nun, Abbess, healer and general high-level social worker of her day.
Talk about making a Pro-Choice statement! If I celebrate nothing else today, I thank the lucky stars for 1500 years of progress—even if there is still a long ways to go.