Swedish Language Blog

Leap Year in Sweden Posted by on Feb 29, 2016 in Culture

February of 2016 has twenty-nine days instead of twenty-eight. In Swedish, that’s called a skottår and February 29 is called skottdag. Nothing too exciting about that. Skott, according to Institutet för språk och folkminnen [the Institute for Language and Folklore], essentially means “to add” in this case. So skottdag is just a day that is added to the year. Again, pretty straight forward. What’s maybe more exciting is the folklore surrounding the day.

Women can propose marriage. Now this is one of those traditions that doesn’t necessarily sit right today. Of course a woman can propose to a man. Or propose to another woman for that matter, but this tradition started quite a while ago. According to the Nordic Museum in Stockholm the tradition first came to Sweden from England in the late 1800s and gained some popularity. Folks were sending postcards in the early 1900s joking about leap year and warning men to be careful as hoards of women were out to get them. You’ll find women setting traps, women shooting Cupid’s arrows (like the image to the right), even women chasing men with nets. All the while, a hapless man tries to avoid the proposal.

While this tradition never really caught on in more rural areas, it was joked about and maybe even practiced a bit by the middle class. At a time when gender roles were even stricter than they are today, it’s safe to assume that not too many women were actually proposing and so the practice of this tradition probably meant that women were able to take just a bit more initiative while flirting with men.

Today, the tradition still pops up every now and again. You’ll see short reports in the media about the tradition every four years with reports about women proposing to their unsuspecting partners. You might not find the same postcards today as you did 100 (or even fifty) years ago, but the tradition still lives on in some form.

Want to learn more (and practice your Swedish)? Check out the Nordic Museum’s post about leap year in Sweden at Skottdagen.

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.