February 2020: Leap Year Superstitions

February 2020 is a 29-day month — something that only comes around once every four years. And, like anything else that only happens once in a blue moon, February 29th is associated with more than one serious superstition!

Notes & Queries is a periodical dating to 1849 containing brief, sometimes informal research reports as well as questions from its readers. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it functioned a bit like a modern message board (or subreddit), with readers writing in to give their thoughts and opinions on others’ queries. This makes it an interesting historical document, capturing the discussions that interested the men of literature, art, and history that made up its target audience.

Among the many topics represented in the pages of Notes & Queries, a particularly relevant one to 2020 is that of leap year traditions. As a departure from the norm, leap years were traditionally associated with everyday things going backward, upside down, or topsy-turvy. You may be familiar with the idea that a woman can only propose to a man during a leap year (if only because of the 2010 Amy Adams movie); Notes & Queries contributors debated the origin of this at length. And while in the late twentieth century we were mostly concerned about our computers crashing because they couldn’t handle a 366-day year, in the nineteenth century folks were afraid of a bad harvest because beans were said to grow upside down during the leap year.

Notes & Queries is archived on Scholars Portal Journals. We’ve included links below to relevant notes, and you can also search it yourself here.

Leap Year and Marriage Proposals

Leap Year and Beans