Every four years, we tack on an extra day to February to help the calendar catch up to the speed of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The first Leap Year dates back to the Julian calendar in 45 BC. This quadrennial phenomenon has created a perfect opportunity for unique, and sometimes very strange, Leap Year traditions. Here are some of our favorites.

Bachelor’s Day

One of the most well-known leap year traditions comes from Ireland. Bachelor’s Day, sometimes known as Ladies’ Privilege, is the day that women are allowed to propose to men. The tradition is said to have originated in Ireland with a conversation between St. Bridget and St. Patrick in the 5th century. Bridget complained to Patrick that men took too long to propose and asked that women be given the opportunity to propose to men. Patrick initially agreed to allowing it one day every seven years, but Bridget convinced him to make it once every four days. 

Irish monks took the tradition to Scotland in the 13th century. In 1288, Queen Margaret made it law that women could propose during leap years and that they must wear a red petticoat while proposing. She also said that refusals would result in a fine… nothing monetary, just a kiss, or the gifting of a traditional silk dress or gloves.

The tradition stretched across other cultures, as well. In Denmark, a man who refused a woman’s proposal had to give the woman twelve pairs of gloves to cover her ringless fingers. In Finland, a denied proposal’s penance was the gift of fabric to make a skirt.

Though it is no longer Scottish law, the tradition has evolved into modern times and into many other cultures. Some use it as an opportunity to celebrate being a bachelor while others observe it as a day of women’s empowerment. No matter the culture, the day tradition offers a light-hearted opportunity for role reversal in traditional romantic gestures.

Ribbons in Birch Trees

Every year during the night of April 30 through May 1, men in Germany purchase or chop down a birch tree and decorate it as their Maibaum (“May tree”) with ribbons and put them up in front of the house of their girlfriends, wives, or someone they may have a crush on. The trees must be guarded until daybreak, as tradition says they’re able to be stolen in the night.

On February 29, women decorate and deliver the trees. The tradition allows women to sprinkle rice into a heart shape outside the man’s house in place of the tree, but many still opt for the tree. And the same rules apply – so that tree may need to be guarded until the sun comes up. 

Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash

Marriage and Wedding Superstitions

In Greece, leap years have a not-so-great reputation when it comes to marriage. Ancient Greek superstitions suggest that couples that tie the knot in a leap year are more likely to get divorced. What’s more, if a couple separates in a leap year, they will never find happiness again in their lives. Italians, Russians, Ukrainians, and Taiwanese believe that leap years are unlucky times to wed or buy a house. It’s believed that leap years bring poor weather and a greater risk of death.

“Leaplings” Assemble in Anthony, Texas

Leapers flock to the Leap Year Capital of the World: Anthony, Texas, which sits right on the Texas/New Mexico border. The town holds a Leap Year Celebration that begins on February 29 with a celebration for leaplings (those born on February 29), and continues for the next two days with music, food, crafts, activities, and various leap-themed events. It’s a quirky celebration that draws leapers from around the world.

BBC Man holding La Bougie du Sapeur
Photo by BBC

A Leap Year French Newspaper: La bougie du Sapeur

Beginning as a joke between two friends in 1980, La bougie du Sapeur is a French, once-every-four-years satirical newspaper filled with puns, jokes, wordplay, interviews (real and fictional), and saucy commentary on the news of the previous four years. The paper does not appear online and can only be purchased at newspaper kiosks in France (or on eBay). This year’s edition will be its 12th. 

Photo by Ronnie Koenig

Cheers! A Leap Year Cocktail for the Ages

Originally created by The Savoy’s head bartender Harry Craddock on February 29, 1928, the Leap Year Cocktail contains lemon juice, gin, Grand Marnier, and Italian vermouth. Obviously, you can sip this concoction any time, any year, but Leap Year makes it extra special. 


Leap years come but once every four years. And they continue to inspire fascinating traditions and superstitions around the world. From proposals and marriages, to celebrations and satire, these customs show the human desire to connect the meaning and magic in the peculiarities of the calendar.

Kadi McDonald is a freelance writer, marketing strategist, and proud Cleveland sports fan.