|1269373. Wed Jan 03, 2018 9:47 pm
|[Could also be used for the Q series under "Question (Popping the)".]
What is the most common day for marriage proposals to occur?
According to a 2015 study by Facebook, the most popular day of the year for marriage proposals is Christmas Eve. [Klaxon: Valentine's Day] In fact, one third of all couples get engaged in November and December. Valentine's Day is the fourth most popular day for proposals, behind Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. 
History of marriage proposals:
This book has loads of interesting information on proposals. The idea of a man asking a woman to marry him only really came about in Great Britain in the 1700s, as before that most marriages were arranged. It took much longer for this tradition to reach France, to the point where French aristocrats and travellers wrote about their surprise that English marriages were based on love rather than arrangement.
Although extremely common today, the word "fiancÚ(e)" was considered a very ugly word in the first half of the twentieth century, with The Bride's Book or Young Housewife's Compendium of 1932 saying "The well-disposed reader will have noticed that we have done everything in human power to avoid using this horrid word, but with the best will in the world it is not always possible to find a substitute." 
Women proposing to men:
No one's quite sure where the tradition of women proposing to men on February 29th comes from. Two stories are that it comes from an Irish tale about St Bridget striking a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men, and that Queen Margaret of Scotland wrote a law permitting female proposals in 1288. However, both of these appear to be false, as Saint Bridget was a child when St Patrick died, and Queen Margaret died when she was eight.  In the UK, if a woman proposes to a man on February 29th and he turns her down, tradition states that he is obligated to give her a new pair of gloves at Easter. By the mid-twentieth century, this "compensation" had evolved to either a silk gown or a fur coat.  Gloves used to be hugely associated with courtship and weddings - this part of the book describes a wedding from 1748 where 83 pairs of gloves were exchange as gifts, while in Devon a woman could ask out a man on Valentine's Day, and if he accepted he would respond by, again, giving her a pair of gloves at Easter.  So it seems that in Devon, between the Valentine's Day tradition and the February 29th tradition, if a woman was interested in a man and she asked him out in February of a leap year, he'd probably end up having to buy her a pair of gloves regardless of whether or not he was interested. Good way to get a free pair of gloves I guess!
Before it spread around the English-speaking world, the only other country that appears to have this tradition is Finland. In Finland, if a woman proposes to a man on February 29th and he refuses, he must give the woman enough cloth to make a skirt. (I've read this in several places including Wikipedia, but I can't find an original source as they all seem to reference each other. This article has an update at the end of it that seems to corroborate the story and confirm that it is a real Finnish custom.)
Probably the most famous woman in history to propose to her male partner was Queen Victoria, who had to propose to Prince Albert because legally, as queen, he could not propose to her. She didn't do it on a leap year though, she did it on October 15th, 1839.
Proposal customs from around the world:
Dara O Briain once said "If I'm ever the father of a daughter in thirty years' time and her boyfriend comes to me asking for permission to marry her, I'm gonna set the fucker tasks!" Turns out, in Scotland, they used to do exactly this. It was known as "speerin'" (from the old Scots word for "asking"), and any man who wanted a woman's hand in marriage had to complete a series of Taskmaster-style trials and hurdles for her father to prove his worth.  (Google suggests more info is available from this book but right now I have no access to a physical copy.)
In Fiji, prospective grooms traditionally ask the father's permission to marry his daughter by presenting him with a whale's tooth (known as a tabua). Each family appoint a representative to speak on their behalf (very handy if you are too scared to ask her yourself!) at which the speeches are made and the whale's tooth is presented. However, if the woman's father refuses the proposal, he does so by presenting a whale's tooth of his own! That poor whale. 
In Ethiopia, marriages are arranged by the parents, but before they can decide if a woman is suitable to marry their son, they investigate back seven generations of the woman's family (!) to ensure there is no blood relation between the two families. They then visit the family to propose that the daughter marries their son. In recent years this has been relaxed to "only" five generations.  (Imagine doing a full Who Do You Think You Are for every potential romantic pursuit!)
Somehow I'd never heard of this until now, but apparently it's quite common in Wales for a man to give a carved "lovespoon" to a girl he wishes to court/marry. If a girl receives several lovespoons from several admirers, she would hang them all up on the wall of her house. 
In France, the engagement ring isn't bought until after the proposal; once the man has asked the question and the woman has accepted, they go shopping for the ring together. Tradition then dictates that the woman is not allowed to wear her ring until the families hold an official engagement party, known as Les Fianšailles (The Betrothal), where the two sets of parents meet for the first time. In very traditional families, the man wears white gloves when asking for the father's permission (yet another example of gloves being a big part of wedding customs).