When I was in high school in Beckley, West Virginia, we celebrated Sadie Hawkins Day each year, and held a Sadie Hawkins Dance that evening. The event was named for a character in Al Capp’s comic strip Li’l Abner, who was “the homeliest gal in the hills.”
Sadie’s father Hezekiah Hawkins was a prominent resident of the fictitious town of Dogpatch. He was so worried that Sadie would never marry, and thus live at home for the rest of her life, that he decreed the first annual Sadie Hawkins Day. It involved a foot race for the unmarried gals of Dogpatch to chase the town’s bachelors, and “marry up” with the ones they caught.
For those too young to remember Li’l Abner, it was very similar to the Beverly Hillbillies on TV, with Abner and Daisy Mae being prototypes for Jethro and Ellie Mae. The comic strip was so popular that within a couple of years the Sadie Hawkins Day event had taken on a life of its own.
The basis of Sadie Hawkins Day is that women and girls take the initiative to invite the man or boy of their choice to a dance. By 1952 just five years after the comic strip event occurred, Sadie Hawkins Day events were reportedly held at 40,000 high school and college campuses. They gave girls and women power long before the feminist movement became popular, and celebrations still occur in some regions of the country.
Today, February 29, is Leap Day –a day that catches our standard Gregorian calendar up with the solar calendar. We lose 6 hours each calendar year, so every four years we add an extra day to synchronize our calendar with the sun.
Leap Year has traditionally been the time that women can propose marriage. According to English law, February 29 was ignored and had no legal status. Folks assumed that traditions and agreements would also have no status on that day. Since the Leap Year day existed to fix a problem in the calendar, they reasoned that it should also be used to fix an old and unjust custom that only let men propose marriage.
The first documentation of the practice dates back to 1288, when tradition says Scotland passed a law allowing women to propose marriage to the man of their choice in that year. It followed that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine. The fine might range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves to soften the blow of a rejection.
In today’s world, women often propose marriage to a man, and most cultures do not look down on them. However, that was not the case in earlier times when the rules of courtship were stricter. Men were the breadwinners, and the responsibility to support the family fell exclusively upon their shoulders. So it was considered audacious of women to propose.
But before Women’s Liberation and equal pay for equal work, women were only allowed to pop the question one day every four years, on February 29. Legend says this tradition started in 5th Century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. (Some things never change!) According to legend, St. Patrick agreed that women could propose on this one day in February during the leap year, apparently feeling that even an agreement would hold no obligation over the man.
In the Greek culture, some believe it is bad luck to marry during a leap year, so many engaged couples will not plan their wedding during a leap year. But in America, we embrace the year and the day. Ladies, if you’re reading this post on Leap Day, it’s not too late for you to make your move!
Jim often jokes that I proposed to him. I didn’t, but our conversation led into the subject of marriage and what we were planning for our lives. I told him that I thought God was leading me to be a missionary, and that I could not marry him if he didn’t plan the same future. (He hadn’t actually asked me!) Jim said that my only question should be whether God was leading me to marry him, and that God would lead us wherever He wanted us to serve.
Well, needless to say, God did have a different plan for me, and I believe it was exactly what I have done. In June we will celebrate 47 years of marriage, and have been privileged to serve in pastoral ministry here in the US, some of those in mission churches.
You don’t need a Sadie Hawkins Day or Leap Year. Like all decisions, choosing a marriage partner should be a matter of prayer, asking God to lead you to the right person in His time.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to Him and He will direct your paths.”