On February 24 2019, the Facebook page “Pictures in History” shared the following caption with the photograph seen above:
A long forgotten Christmas tradition, women once used to beg their husbands for forgiveness from all of their wrongdoings and mistakes that they made throughout the year. Why did this tradition disappear?!?
An old tradition…At Christmas women would beg their husbands for forgiveness from all of their wrongdoings and mistakes they made throughout the year…
Although the claim the picture demonstrated a Christmas tradition of women begging their husbands for forgiveness appeared to originate on image-sharing sites in 2018 and 2019, the image itself circulated far earlier with different descriptions. Various iterations of the image circulated on Russian-speaking sites as early as 2014, and some versions in English simply labeled the image “women begging men” (not “husbands” or “for forgiveness.”)
A 2017 collection of photographs had an automatically translated title of “Eerie Strange Pictures from the Past Which Have No Explanation,” suggesting that the purported backstory was uncommon with Russian versions of the same image. By December 2018, shares of the photograph described the “begging husbands for forgiveness” and a “Christmas tradition” as an “urban legend,” a caveat that soon began to fall away from the descriptions at around that time.
However, earlier versions of the “women begging for forgiveness” explanation typically have a different caption. One translated version from 2017 said:
Etiquette of a century ago. Ladies invite gentlemen to the White Dance, 1900
The image was popular on Russian-language websites as early as 2014, but the claim that it shows a Christmas tradition of wives begging their husbands for forgiveness appeared to spring from the ether, and solely to drive shares. Early iterations of the photograph included commentary about its lack of explanation, but it was also commonly labeled as a photograph of women subverting the conventions of the day to ask men to a “white dance”:
In the United States and Canada, a similar tradition is known as a “Sadie Hawkins dance.” In Russia, the same concept has been called a “White Dance,” and women similarly buck social convention to initiate the arrangement of a date to those dances.
Not only was the caption suspiciously new and without any merit, we also found no information supporting a “Christmas tradition” where wives begged husbands for forgiveness in any country.