St. Brigid fights for ladies' privilege

Leap Day is the day we tidy up the calendar. The year is 365 and a quarter days long so we put those quarters together every four years to create an extra day and confusion for anyone born on Feb. 29.

Leap Day was also known in the olden days for being a day of Ladies' Privilege - the day every four years when ladies had the privilege of proposing to men. The story goes that this tradition was started in the fifth century when a deal was worked out between two patron saints of Ireland.

St. Patrick's name pops up, but St. Brigid of Kildare is also among the patron saints of the Emerald Isle. Brigid was real person who founded the Kildare Abbey in 470 but there was also a Celtic goddess Brigid.

St. Brigid's feast day is celebrated on Feb. 1. The Gaelic first day of spring, associated with the pagan goddess Brigid, is celebrated on Feb. 2. Stories about the saint and goddess over the years merged Brigid into interchangable personalities associated with home and hearth.

One of the stories has to do with a Brigid who was spunky enough to negotiate with St. Patrick about a ladies day of privilege. I picture this Brigid as Maureen O'Hara, the beautiful red-haired Irish actress who starred in movies starting in the 1940s. O'Hara played women who stood up to pirates, princes or - hat off, hand over heart - John Wayne.

Brigid complained to Patrick that women didn't have the right to propose marriage. Patrick, whose name didn't contain "Saint" yet because he was still alive, suggested to Brigid that ladies could ask guys to marry every seven years.

"Yeah, that's the ticket," said Patrick. "Seven's a good number."

Brigid didn't think seven was such a good number.

"If a gal sees someone she likes when she's 18, she'll be an old maid of 25 before she gets the chance to propose," she said.

Brigid probably suggested they arm wrestle for a lady's right to propose every other year but, since he was about 64 years older than Brigid, Patrick came up with a solution. He suggested having Ladies' Privilege Day on Leap Day - every four years - and Brigid rolled her sleeves back down.

Ladies got an even better break when Al Capp created Sadie Hawkins Day in his "Li'l Abner" comic strip in 1937. Ladies were more impatient in the 20th century and needed an annual holiday to choose a mate.

I don't know of anyone now who needs a designated day to propose marriage. It might not have been the lady's idea, but I know of an older couple who just got hitched in a commitment ceremony. In the recent past this couple would have had a church wedding but, for financial reasons, chose to have a commitment ceremony.

In the dictionary, "commit" means to perform or perpetuate, as in "commit a murder." Committing to a commitment ceremony could instill as much - or more - fear as someone considering marriage.

So to the ladies - or men - who will do the proposing on Leap Day, think of your commitment. And remember that if you actually are married on Feb. 29, you will only have to buy an anniversary present every four years.

-- People Editor Sharlene Irete may be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 210.


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