It’s leap day tomorrow, and while HMRC fines are something all businesses and individuals want to avoid, there are some traditional leap year fines that the men of years gone by have risked on this special day.
It comes around every four years and allows our calendar to stay in sync. Tradition holds that leap day became the one day that women could take control over their societal position because Saint Bridgid struck a deal with Saint Patrick for leap day proposals. The myth continues that Queen Margaret codified the ability of women to propose on February 29th into law in 1288.
The truth is more likely to lie in the fact that leap day was a “non-day” legally until 1288, which meant that women could act outside of their roles and take the initiative when it came to finding a partner. Queen Margaret was only five years old in 1288 and therefore unlikely to have passed this law, and Saint Bridgid was around seven years old when Saint Patrick died – though custom says that when she brokered the leap day deal with him, she proposed and he said no, instead gifting her a kiss and a silk dress to mend her heart.
Around the world, various cultures observed leap day role reversals. In Denmark, men turning down a proposal on this day were fined 12 pairs of gloves, supposedly to allow the woman to hide her embarrassment at not wearing a ring. In the UK, tradition held that the gentleman saying no should give the proposer a pair of gloves on Easter Day.
In Finland, the fine was set as enough fabric for the woman to make a new skirt, and in Scotland – where Queen Margaret’s supposed law was created – the penalty was a kiss, a pair of gloves, a new silk dress, or even £1 (a massive £700 in today’s money!).
In 1948, women in Illinois, USA, took things even further and used Leap Day to take over traditionally male jobs. They spent the day working in politics and emergency services, and some of them used their day of authority to arrest men for “the crime of being single” in a stand against the sexist customs of the time.
Today, most of these traditions have fallen into history, thanks to progressions in equality between men and women. In the USA, Sadie Hawkins Dances maintain a custom for the girls choosing whom to invite as their date, although this usually falls around November. So this leap year, be thankful that society no longer fines men for turning down a proposal, and instead focus on keeping track of deadlines and accuracy – which our powerful Practice Management and award-winning tax software can help with!