Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Year

Happy Leap Day! 
Nowadays, in Canada, leap day, is just an oddity on the calendar or a day to celebrate children's dental health!  Historically, though, Feb. 29 abounds with significance.  
The most well-known tradition is the practice of women proposing marriage to men.  No one knows for sure where the idea came from but it is sometimes attributed to St. Bridget, who lived in  fifth century Ireland. The story is that she complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait and wait and wait for their suitors to propose.  In response, St. Patrick designated leap day as the day women could seize the initiative and propose.
Another story holds that Queen Margaret of Scotland imposed fines on recalcitrant beaux.  There are various versions of the fines.  One said the unresponsive suitor had to buy his lady twelve pairs of gloves, one for each month of the year.  The gloves would cover her shame of having no wedding ring.  Other penalties included a silk dress, enough fabric to make a skirt, or a kiss. Since Queen Margaret was only five years old at the time of the supposed law, the story is suspect.
    The tradition may have arisen from the fact that February 29 was not recognized by English law.  Since the day had no legal status, it was acceptable to break with the convention of a man proposing. Also, February 29 corrected the discrepancy between the calendar year and the actual time taken for the Earth or orbit the sun.  What better time for women to correct a tradition that was one-sided and unjust?
While we may laugh at the idea of dissatisfied spinsters pursuing reluctant grooms through the streets on February 29, we should remember that, historically, a woman's whole life might depend upon her marriage.  In many times and places women could not inherit, could not manage their own money, could not own a business and could not vote.  Denied an education, they could not enter the professions.  Being single was more than a social stigma; it meant poverty and powerlessness.

However your own marriage proposal happened, or is still to happen, here is a prayer for couples planning to wed on leap day.  It's a good prayer for any day and any marriage.
"God of love, please bless N and N as they prepare for the commitment of marriage. May the plans for the wedding not overtake the more important preparation for their lifetime together. Please bless their family and friends as they prepare for this special day and may your blessing be upon them now and always. Amen."
from Pocket Prayers of Blessing by the Venerable Jan McFarlane, Archdeacon of Norwich.


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