Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Leap Year

Leap year

C.A. Asbrey

As it's February, and a Leap Year, there could be only one topic for this month's blog. What is it? How did it become a date on which women could be presumptive enough to propose? Are there any other strange beliefs and traditions associated with the 'extra day'?

Put simply, the extra day came as a result of the move to the Gregorian Calendar from the Julian Calendar. Each year has 365 day, but in order to match the actual journeys around the sun, the extra 0.2425 days it actually takes have to be accommodated with an extra day once every four years. The shortest month was chosen to bolt this extra day on to. So this year, we have that extra day. This February has twenty-nine days instead of only twenty eight, and this has happened since 1528.

The extra day was long associated with allowing women to be more forward than was normally acceptable. Legend has it that Saint Bridget struck a deal with Saint Patrick which allowed women to use the extra day to propose to the man of her choice. The Irish called it Bachelor's Day, and if he refused he had to buy her a silk gown. By the 20th century, that had developed into a fur coat, as the cost of compensating for the loss was not matched by the declining amount of fabric in dresses. In the UK, the tradition was similar, but the compensation was merely a pair of gloves.

Clearly associated with the early church, the tradition is very widespread, but in some countries the women can propose the whole year long, whilst in others, it is only on the leap day itself.

In Kane County, Illinois, the women took things further in 1932. They decided that they'd take over the town for the day. They manned (or womanned?) fire engines, squirting bachelors with hoses, they took over the police and government too. They promptly declared it illegal for a man to be unmarried in the town, but it was all in fun. So much so that the townsfolk played along every leap year and allowed themselves to be dragged off to jail.

The women participated in a ballot for the position they wanted, and the townsfolk elected the mayor, police chief, judges and the like. In the earlier days the fines were things like a pair of stockings, but that soon developed into a financial contribution to charity. High numbers included 300 bachelors arrested (1964), 21,000 votes cast for female candidates (1968) and $3,100 raised for Dr. Eugene Balthazar’s free clinic (1976). It was all in good fun and brightened up one of the coldest months of the year.     

It was all a great way to put the small town on the map and raise some money for charity. Only 1944 saw the tradition halted by WW2 when it was decided that  “ that bachelors remaining in town these days are either too young or too old.”

By the '80's the tradition died, unsurprisingly in a world where women really could now fill all the roles they were allowed take over for the day, but the good ladies of Aurora certainly made the most of it while they could.

Not everyone looks forward to leap year with such gusto. The Italians have a saying that “Anno bisesto tutte le donne senza sesto”. It means “In a leap year, women are erratic.” They warn against making any big plans for a leap year at all, let alone getting married. The Russians associate them with freak weather and a higher chance of dying. I have no idea why, but anyone who has studied Russian literature to any degree will confirm that they do tend to have a bleak and melancholic side. The Scots aren't much better, predicting that leap years bring higher mortality to their herds of sheep.

In Southern Germany there's a charming tradition of young men putting up traditional May Trees in the Garden of their love interest. In an ancient ceremony, with pagan roots, in the region around Cologne, Bonn and Aachen, young men have traditionally placed a so-called Maibaum, or decorated birch tree, in their beloved's yard in the night before May 1st. On leap years, the women do it.

However you celebrate Leap Year, I hope you have a good one, and I think that the message from the ladies of Aurora to have fun with it is a great idea. Happy Leap Year! 

  In All Innocence



Almost everyone woke simultaneously, jolted by the sound of the brakes grinding, and the engine puffing and huffing in protest at an unscheduled stop. Jake’s hand reached for his gun even before he was fully conscious.

“No!” The cry came from Jeffrey, the younger steward, who staggered into the aisle in shock.

Nat strode out of the curtained area, fastening his trousers. “What’s wrong?”

“Mrs. Hunter,” Jeffrey stammered. “She’s dead.”

Nat dragged the curtain aside, revealing the tiny-framed woman lying in a pool of blood. He kneeled and scrutinized her. “Bring a lamp.” He reached out and touched her face. “She’s alive. She’s warm. Fetch Philpot. He’s a doctor.”

The Englishman wandered groggily forward. “I’m not a doctor. I’m a—”

“We don’t care what you are, Philpot,” Jake growled. “You’re the nearest thing we’ve got. You’ve got medical training. Get in there.”

Mrs. Hunter’s eyes flickered weakly open. “My moonstone. Miss Davies—she took it.” She fell back into insensibility.

Jake frowned and his keen blue eyes looked up and down the railway car at the passengers crowded in the aisle in various stages of undress. “Where is Miss Davies? Have you seen her, Abi? You’re bunkin’ with her.”

“No, she isn’t here.” Abigail frowned. “I haven’t seen her for ages. She wasn’t even in her bunk when I changed Ava.”

Malachi padded briskly up to the group, pushing various butlers out of his way as they milled around. “Oh, my goodness! The poor woman.”

Jake nodded. “Yeah, Philpot’s seein’ to her. She’s still alive. Why’ve we stopped? We ain’t at a station.”

Malachi quickly fastened a stray button. “I’m sorry, gentlemen. I have been informed that a rock fall has blocked the tracks. We will dig it out and be on our way as soon as possible.”

“A rock fall? So, how far to a station?” Nat asked. “We’re high in the mountains, miles from anywhere.”

There was another ominous rumble somewhere above them and the carriage shook. The roof thundered with the thumps and clattering of stones and gravel pounding the roof. Worried glances rose upward while Abigail hunched protectively over her baby. The noise gradually stopped, but for an occasional patter of settling gravel and stones shifting above them.

The head steward’s brow crinkled into a myriad of furrows. “I’d best go and check that out.”

Nat’s brows knotted into a frown. “We’re miles from anywhere? So where has Maud Davies gone?” 

“With the moonstone?” Jake strode over to the door and looked out at the huge feathery flakes drifting down from the heavy skies onto an expansive mountainous vista. “There’s nowhere to go.” 

Coming soon - Feb 23rd




  1. I loved reading about all these things I didn't know about Leap Year and never took the time to research, so thanks for a delightful article, Christine. Leap Year has a special memory for me. My first-born was two weeks overdue and decided on February 29th to initiate a trip to the hospital. Luckily, he changed his mind and popped into the world in the wee hours of March 1st during a snowstorm. I still remember the sound of the wind moaning around the windows. My roommate wasn't so lucky; her little Ernest was born before midnight. And she was a blessing in disguise, being in with her 8th child, so I naturally peppered her with all kinds of new-mom questions. She loved coffee and I didn't, so I repaid her kindness by ordering coffee with my meals and gave her a second cup to enjoy. Sweet memories.

    1. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory. I bet your son was glad he got a more straightforward birthday!

  2. I didn't know there were so many traditions around Leap Year. My favorite was the tree planted in a beloved's yard...sweet. The Russians certainly are morose.
    Well, what a delightful post, Christine. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    All the best...

    1. Thank you, and happy Leap Day to you - whatever you choose to do with it.

  3. I wonder how many February 29th proposals were accepted. Fascinating customs!

  4. I love the idea of having fun year round, but why not even more fun on leap year. Fun post, and the excerpt was exceptional. Doris

  5. Thanks so much, Doris. Happy Leap Day!

  6. What a fun post! And I learned a lot. I'm going to plan to do something fun on February 29 this year. Thanks for the idea.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a great 'extra' day!