Because of the inability to adjust a solar calendar that was evenly consistant, we make up for the roughly 6 hours a year loss difference by getting an extra day every 4 years. This is February 29th, Leap Day.
I looked around for a good reason why it was termed "Leap Year". The explanation seems to be thusly boring: if a calendar holiday, say, Valentine's Day, is on Tuesday in the common year before, it will fall on Thursday in the Leap Year that follows, instead of Wednesday. It leaps a day. Because, well, we have an extra day. Personally, I think adding another day to February is proof of man's inhumanity to man. Why not an extra summer day, June 31? Or a September 31st, to enjoy one more day of warmth? Or a November 31st to get an extra day between Thanksgiving and The Big December Insanity? Was nobody thinking? Why don't we move it now? Seems reasonable to me. We've got 4 years to get used to the idea!
But I got off track here. Leap Day has gathered some customs around it. One being the false legend of it being Sadie Hawkins Day.
For those too young to have known the comic strip "Lil Abner", it was the ongoing silly drama of a hillbilly town called Dogpatch. In the original Al Capp strip, "Sadie Hawkins was the daughter of one of Dogpatch's earliest settlers, Hekzebiah Hawkins. When she reached the age of 35, still a spinster, her father in desperation called together the eligible bachelors of Dogpatch and declared that day to be Sadie Hawkins Day and that "when ah fires [my gun] all o' yo' kin start a-runnin! When ah fires agin - after givin' yo' a fair start - Sadie starts a runnin'. Th' one she ketches'll be her husband."
"The town spinsters decided that this was such a good idea, they made Sadie Hawkins Day an annual event, much to the chagrin of Dogpatch bachelors everywhere. Sadie Hawkins Day was first mentioned in the November 13, 1937 Li'l Abner strip with the race actually taking place between the November 19th and November 30th strips. It would prove to be an annual event in the strip".-Wikipedia
Thus, the unmarried women of Dogpatch physically chased down the single men. If a woman bagged a man and dragged him back to the starting line by sundown, he had to marry her. By the 1950s, post-war pressure to marry and procreate brought Sadie Hawkins Day dances into mainstream American culture. These were held on Leap Day, not on Sadie's original November date. On Sadie Hawkins Day, women asked the men out, women asked the men to dance, and women "were allowed" to propose.
This seems to have been a blending of the comic with much-earlier, real traditions of Leap Year. From Wiki: "Supposedly, a 1288 law by Queen Margaret of Scotland (then age five and living in Norway), required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man; compensation ranged from a kiss to £1 to a silk gown, in order to soften the blow. Because men felt that put them at too great a risk, the tradition was in some places tightened to restricting female proposals to the modern leap day, February 29th, or to the medieval leap day, February 24th. According to Felten: "A play from the turn of the 17th century, 'The Maydes Metamorphosis,' has it that 'this is leape year/women wear breeches.' A few hundred years later, breeches wouldn't do at all: Women looking to take advantage of their opportunity to pitch woo were expected to wear a scarlet petticoat -- fair warning, if you will." Sheds some light on Rhett Butler's gift of a red petticoat to Mammy in "Gone With the Wind"! I'd suppose this signal gave a man time to run away on sight of it. But I do like the very cavewoman image of chasing, bagging and dragging a man to a finish line. Not the way I'd recommend starting a marriage, but stranger things happen.
So, should the mood strike you, gals, today's the day. Get your running shoes, your red slip and keep a sharp eye out. Though I'll warn ya, if you catch him, you've gotta keep him...