Blair and Sheridan bespoke jewellery wedding traditions

Leap year proposals – the history behind this quirky tradition

Popping the question…. getting down on one knee… ask for your hand in marriage…  For centuries weddings have carried various traditions in the lead up to and on the day of the ceremony.  At Blair and Sheridan we meet many partners planning their proposal as we share the journey of designing a bespoke engagement ring for the big moment.  Remote beaches,  mountain tops,  exotic holidays and romantic locations are popular choices of the ‘where’ to propose.  The ‘when’ is completely down to you and may be a date that is special to you as a couple or a complete spur of the moment.  This year carries an unconventional opportunity for would-be brides to go against the grain and offer a leap year proposal to their would-be grooms on the 29th of February.

Where does the idea of a Leap year proposal come from?

The idea of a leap year proposal – sometimes known as Bachelor’s Day or Ladies Privilege – stems from Irish legend.  Saint Bridget allegedly appealed to St Patrick that women were having to wait too long to marry because the men were taking a long time to propose.  She put forward the idea that women should be allowed to propose to the men and it was agreed that this could take place once every four years.  At this time single people were publicly shamed and frowned upon – marriage was banned during Lent and people who remained single until Easter Sunday were publicly named in Skellig Lists.  The timing of these archaic methods suggest the link to late February proposals.  It is said that should the Irish gentleman refuse the female proposal he was obliged to recompense her with a gift.  This was often a pair of gloves (to disguise a ringless finger!) or item of clothing and in some areas it was expected that he perform a juggling trick on Easter Sunday.

Do we have to certain traditions at our wedding?

In todays modern society there is far less expectation for people to be coupled up and a mix of gender pairings and social progression means that anything goes.  While modern society tends not to dictate rules when it comes to couples wedding plans,  the idea of a leap year proposal remains a fun idea along with a number of long-held customs.  Whatever plans you have for own wedding there are some long-standing traditions with lovely and unusual sentiments behind them…


  • White wedding dress – in 1840 Queen Victoria donned a white lace wedding dress;  which she designed herself; to marry Prince Albert – making quite the statement as royal brides had worn red up til this point.  Going forward it became very fashionable for brides to wear white.
  • Giving away the bride – dating back to Roman times the bride ‘belonged’ to her father and he walked her down the aisle to ‘gift’ her to her new husband.
  • Exchanging of rings – Early Egyptians believed circular objects to represent eternity (with no beginning and no end).  Over time this evolved into swapping wedding rings to represent the everlasting love between a couple.
  • Handfasting – An ancient Celtic ceremony where a couple were simply bound together with a braided cord or ribbon – the term ‘tie the knot’ is borne of the handfasting tradition.
  • Carrying the bride over the threshold – this very old tradition was thought to stem from a fear of evil spirits and the groom would protect his new bride from these by carrying her.  Also preventing the bride from tripping in the door which would bring bad luck.  An alternative belief was that no one would witness the bride keen to begin the wedding night hence ensuring her chastity!
  • The luckenbooth brooch – this Scottish love token dates back to the 16th Century and depicts 2 intertwined hearts with a crown at the top and often embellished with gemstones.  The brooch was once sold from a small shop – or ‘lock booth’ – on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and is where it got its name from and represents love, loyalty and protection.
  • A sixpence in her shoe – a gift to the bride from her father a sixpence is placed in the bride’s shoe to promote prosperity in the marriage.  This comes from the verse ‘Something old,  something new,  something borrowed,  something blue,  a silver sixpence for her shoe’.
  • Throwing confetti – with Italian origins this tradition is thought to bestow prosperity and fertility upon the newlyweds.
  • Cutting the cake – the couple cutting their wedding cake in front of onlookers is said to represent that they are willing to share everything going forward and their cohesiveness as a unit.
  • Tossing the bouquet – the bride throws her bouquet among a group of single women and the lucky one to catch it is meant to be the next to marry.  It has become popular for brides to attach ‘something old’ to their bouquets by way of an heirloom trinket or item of jewellery.

If we have inspired you to consider proposing to your partner on February 29th – or at any point in 2024 – view our gents engagement rings here and our ladies bespoke design engagement rings here.  At Blair and Sheridan we pride ourselves on our unique, personalised one to one approach.  Planning to marry is a very exciting time, with the journey of commissioning your engagement ring just the beginning.