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The Ladies' Privilege: Encouraging Women to Propose on Leap Day

Even with all the strides towards equality that women have made in the past hundred years, it's still fairly uncommon for a woman to propose to a man. But a century ago, proposals by women were not only acceptable, they were a common occurrence—at least on February 29th.

How did it start?

The legend goes that St. Bridget of Ireland was frustrated that all the non-nun ladies in 5th century Ireland had to sit around waiting for proposals that might never come. She complained about it to St. Patrick who, probably impressed by Bridget’s ability to turn her used bathwater into beer, finally proclaimed that women could have the chance to propose themselves once every four years on the leap day. This became known as “The Ladies’ Privilege.”

Another part of the legend says that in 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland made it law that any man who dared turn down a proposal must pay his girlfriend a fine. Different sources say this fine took the form of a kiss, a silk gown, expensive gloves, or simply cold hard cash.

As fun as the story is, it is almost certainly not true.

Despite decades of searching, no record of such a law has been found. (It would have been difficult for Margaret to write the law anyway, as she was five years old in 1288.)

A later legend said that refusing meant perpetual bad fortune for the man. A more recent old wives tale said that women who planned on proposing during a leap year must wear a bright red petticoat to do it, presumably to give the gentleman some warning. Since red petticoats went in and out of fashion all the time, this must have caused unfortunate confusion.

What is true is that leap years, and particularly leap days, were considered such a ridiculous anomaly that many odd traditions sprung up around them. A play from the 1600s states that women can ditch their dresses and wear “breeches” in a leap year. Babies conceived or born on leap day were considered to be especially lucky. Leap years were thought to be the best time to start a new business. And because it wasn’t a “real” day and normal societal rules did not apply, February 29th was the only acceptable day for women to propose.

Despite the claim that the tradition goes back 1,600 years, no mention of actual gender-reversed proposals on that day show up until the 1700s; their occurrences peaked in the early 1900s. The popular postcards of the day poked fun at the practice with images of harridan women who dared propose, and emasculated men who said yes (sometimes only under pain of death.)

In 1937, the author of the Li’l Abner comic strip took the idea of women proposing on leap day and turned it into a running gag. But instead of occurring on February 29th, he placed it on the November birthday of the comic’s resident spinster, Sadie Hawkins, from which we get the name of the dance.

Who’s done it?

A handful of famous women have proposed to their husbands, although sadly none that we can find on a leap day.

In 1839 Queen Victoria proposed to Albert, a situation necessitated by the fact that she held a much higher rank than him. Victoria recorded in her diary,

“At about half past 12 I sent for Albert; he came to the [room] where I was alone, and after a few minutes I said to him, that I thought he must be aware of why I wished [him] to come here, and that it would make me too happy if he would consent to what I wished (to marry me); we embraced each other over and over again, and he was so kind, so affectionate…I told him I was quite unworthy of him and kissed his dear hand.”

Zsa Zsa Gabor has claimed that she proposed to all of her nine husbands. The first proposal was when she was only 15 years old, to her 35-year-old boyfriend, a Turkish official named Burhan Asaf Belge. It was Gabor’s parents who provided the ring, sporting a ten carat diamond, for their daughter.

More recently, celebrities such as Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson, Heather Mills, and the singer Pink have admitted to proposing to their husbands (or ex-husbands).

Should you do it?

There are no official traditions around how propose to your man, although many businesses, especially in the UK, offer special proposal packages and discounts for women getting down on one knee. So be creative and have fun with it, but be careful: According to one poll, only 56% of men currently in relationships would say yes if asked today. But another poll found that the tide is turning in the woman’s favor: More than half of women polled and 48% of men said that a woman proposing was a sign they were bold and modern, not “scary” or “desperate.”

Bizarre postcard images via Slate and Monmouth University.

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Food
Cheese Wheel Wedding Cakes Are a Funky Twist on an Old Tradition
Nom & Malc, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Nom & Malc, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If there’s ever a time you have permission to be cheesy, it’s on your wedding day. What better way to do so than with a pungent wedding cake made of actual wheels of cheese? According to Elite Daily, cheese wedding cakes are a real option for couples who share an affinity for dairy products.

One of the trailblazers behind the sharp trend is Bath, England-based cheese supplier The Fine Cheese Co. The company offers clients a choice of one of dozens of wedding cake designs. There are bold show-stoppers like the Beatrice cake, which features five tiers of cheese and is priced at $400. For customers looking for something more delicate, there’s the Clara centerpiece, which replaces miniature wedding cakes with mounds of goat cheese. Whether your loved one likes funky Stilton or mellow brie, there’s a cheese cake to satisfy every palate. Flowers are incorporated into each display to make them just as pretty as conventional wedding cakes.

Since The Fine Cheese Co. arranged their first wedding cake in 2002, other cheese suppliers have entered the game. The Cheese Shed in Newton Abbot, England; I.J. Ellis Cheesemongers in Scotland; and Murray’s Cheese in New York will provide cheese wheel towers for weddings or any other special occasion. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from clearing out the local fromagerie and assembling a cheese cake at home.

[h/t Elite Daily]

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11 Brilliant Wedding Gifts That Won't Cost You Anything
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Most modern couples make it easy for you to pick out a wedding gift (thank you, wedding registries). But if you're going to disregard the preferred gift list, what you give has to be good. And you're in luck—because some of those gifts won't cost you a thing.

1. BONUS GIFT CARDS

Gift cards and cash are great gifts because they let couples enjoy a nice dinner out or pick up household needs that didn't make it onto the registry. But how do you get them without doling out greenbacks? Look for gift card deals and bonuses at places you already shop or dine (so long as it's a place the couple might also enjoy). In many cases, restaurants and stores will run promotions that give you free gift cards when you buy a pre-determined amount of gift cards. Stores such as Kohl's, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond have all run similar promotions (and are also popular wedding registry destinations). If it's a store you already visit frequently, you can purchase gift cards to shop for everyday expenses, then wrap up the free bonus gift cards as wedding gifts.

2. FAMILY HEIRLOOMS

Weddings are the perfect time to pass on a family treasure. In most cases, these gifts don't cost a thing (except if it is in need of repair, restoration, or cleaning), but that doesn't make them cheap. In fact, marketing professor Utpal Dholakia suggests that heirlooms, like grandma's wedding ring, have more worth than a pricey crystal picture frame or kitchen appliance because of the emotional connection and significance that the item holds.

3. THE CLASSIC REGIFT

Single present wrapped in red on table.
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Regifting is never quite ideal, but in the right scenario, it’s not such a faux pas, especially if it’s an item the couple really needs or wants. But before you go digging through your closet or basement for the "perfect" wedding regift, you'll need to consider Emily Post's rules for appropriately passing on a present. The recycled gift shouldn't be personalized or handmade, should be brand new in original packaging, and something that the couple really would like. Oh, and don’t rewrap a gift that they gave you in the first place. That's just tacky.

4. WEDDING PREPARATION HELP

If you have useful wedding-prep skills, it might be worth exchanging some hard work in place of a wedding gift. In most cases, brides and grooms are stressed about the final cost of their big day (the national average came in around $35,000 last year) , but if your skills—such as floral design, dress alterations, or invitation design—can lower the cost, they'll likely be happier getting your help instead of a coffee maker. Of course, you'll have to work out the details in advance, but then again, that's one less gift you'll have to haul to the reception.

5. THE GIFT OF TRAVEL

Honeymoon registries have become a popular alternative to dishtowels and potholders. If you want to go for Guest of the Year, you can one-up the cash gift with airline miles. Instead of cashing in your unused miles or points for magazines, opt for gift flights or hotel stays instead. With some airlines, it’s cheaper to purchase tickets for the couple outright (avoiding mile transfer fees), so confer with them before the big day to make this gift come true. And don’t forget the important travel rule for the newly married: always use given names on tickets and any bookings that require matching ID, since any potential name-change paperwork won't be filed until after the happy couple gets home.

6. PET SITTING

Small dog sitting in a packed suitcase.
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Wedding planning is hectic and expensive, so help your favorite couple stress (and spend) a little less when it comes to making all of their final arrangements for their pets. Well in advance of the big day, offer to pet-sit when they leave town for their honeymoon—they're sure to stress less if they know the daily dog walking, mealtimes, and kitty cuddles are being attended to by a friend. But before you jump in, make sure you're a good match with the couple's beloved pet; putting high-energy pets in a low-energy environment, for example, won't make for a compatible (or enjoyable) experience.

7. CASH-BACK GIFT BUYING

You can use this hack to purchase something the couple has their hearts set on, and it still won’t cost you a dime. If your bank account or credit card offers cash-back on purchases, plan in advance to save up the rewards from everyday purchases to put toward a wedding gift. While you're technically exchanging money for a gift here, it's the equivalent of using a free gift card to pick up that wedding present. Some credit card companies even offer the option to put cash-back rewards toward discounted gift cards, which also works for stores the couple frequents.

8. HONEYMOON HOUSESITTING

Being away from home for an extended period of time can make anyone nervous, so ease the couple’s worries by offering to housesit while they drink margaritas on a tropical beach. Depending on their digs, you may be in charge of everything from picking up the mail on a daily stop-in to actually spending the night while caring for pets and plants. While this gift is free for you, it’s a big budget saver for brides and grooms: on average, housesitting can cost between $25 and $50 per day.

9. PRO-BONO SERVICES

If you're an accountant, lawyer, or have some other kind of professional specialty or skill, consider giving free services as a wedding gift. You can offer to help the couple through the name change process, write their joint will or prenup, give them financial advice, or even just give them a couple of months worth of haircuts (but only if you're a professional stylist—we don't recommend this for just anyone with a pair of scissors and a trimmer!). You can create a gift certificate and deliver it with a card on the wedding day, and follow up afterward to see when they'd like to schedule an appointment (but note: if they decline your services because they already have a financial advisor, for example, then you need to graciously congratulate them again and send a gift).

10. SOMETHING GREEN

Large colorful potted plant.
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Thinking of a gift for a green-thumbed couple? Consider sharing your favorite plant or a starter garden kit. If you're already a gardener, you can compile seeds from your existing stash, get seedlings growing, or transplant a portion of your favorite plant into a new pot. Just remember that this gift needs to be delivered after the wedding, avoiding the chance that the couple comes home to dead plants.

11. POST-HONEYMOON MEALS

Getting back into the flow of everyday life is a little strange after such a big event, so help the couple out by stocking their freezer with post-honeymoon meals. You can host a meal-making shower in lieu of a bridal shower, getting other friends and family (and their specialty recipes) in on the gift. Even better, consider coordinating with their honeymoon housesitter to drop off some early freezer meals that the couple will have ready for when they get home jetlagged. Chances are, they'll really appreciate the thoughtfulness of your gift—which is really the best kind of gift to give, regardless of cost.

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