A black and white photo is circulating on the internet in which five women kneel in front of an equal number of men. The women would ask forgiveness from their husbands in this way and it would be an old end-of-year tradition, according to the caption with the photo. But no credible Source can confirm the existence of such a tradition.
This fact check has been performed based on the information available on the date of publication. Read more about how we work here.
on New Year’s Day Knack an email from a reader. ‘I would have liked to know whether in the past women actually had to apologize annually to their husbands for any mistakes. I have come across this photo several times now,’ writes the reader, who also sends the image below.
According to the caption accompanying the black-and-white photo, it would have been a “late 1800s, early 1900s” tradition for women to apologize to their husbands on the last day of the year for anything they had done wrong during the year. In the photo we see five women kneeling in front of an equal number of men. The ladies wear blouses with high collars and long skirts, the gentlemen are tight in suits. Some of the women have folded their hands, making it appear as if they are begging the man before whom they kneel.
A Google Images search tells us that the image, with the same or similar captions, is circulating on several online platforms. On Pinterest we find a German-language post that says it would be a ‘Christmas tradition’.
On Facebook, we find the image with the caption on the page Awareness is a process, which has 3395 followers, and in the Flemish SeniorenSite (RETRO) group (43,500 followers). There, no less than 238,800 Facebook users were shown the photo with the caption. Some assume it is a joke, quite a few others react indignantly.
We repeat the reverse search, first with the Russian search engine Yandex. For example, we see that the photo with the caption about the Christmas tradition has also been shared frequently on Twitter. Then we do the same with Tineye.
Thus we learn that the photo has been shared online since 2014. For example, there is a Russian post from 2015, with a caption that reads: ‘Ladies invite gentlemen to white dance’. We also find the photo with the same claim on Russian-language Pinterest accounts.
The photo search also leads us to a longer post from 2019 on the Russian social networking site VKontakte, entitled ‘White dance – ladies invite gentlemen’.
We translate the text with Google Translate and find that here a completely different story is tied to the photo. We would see women asking men to dance according to a tradition that originated in the late 19th century at court balls in Vienna. The ladies then danced the waltz in white dresses – hence the name ‘white dance’ – and it was they who invited potential dance partners, as we read in the long post. We also find information about that ‘white dance’ on a Russian dance website.
By the way, the author of the Russian post on VKontakte mentions that not everyone agrees with his statement. ‘There used to be an original Christmas tradition. This is how wives apologize to their husbands on the eve of the holiday,” the author of this post refers to what we read earlier in the other captions.
AAP FactCheck’s Australian fact-checkers fact-checked this in November 2020 after finding that the photo with the caption about the alleged Christmas tradition was circulating on English-language Facebook accounts, as well as on Reddit and on https://twitter.com/sdpuddicombe/status/1290798288015446022/photo/1.
The photo also appears to be for sale as a vintage postcard on a French-language website, with the description ‘Vintage Victorian women kneeling before their husbands’, as we read in their article.
In their research, they also came across Spanish-language posts with the same photo, including on Facebook and https://twitter.com/Sra_Catolica/status/946090214040244224. It claimed that the image would show a Mexican tradition from the Porfiriato period (1877-1880 and 1884-1911), when a ‘strange and humiliating ritual was circulating among the upper class: at the end of the year the woman would kneel for her husband and begged his forgiveness for the mistakes she had made in the course of the past year’.
AAP came to the conclusion that no reliable Source could confirm the existence of this ‘Christmas tradition’. They spoke to several history professors, including Victor Macias-Gonzalez, an expert on gender and class and the Porfiriato period at the University of Wisconsin for 25 years, John Mason Hart of the University of Houston, who specializes in the history of Mexico and Maurico Tenorio of the University of Chicago, an expert on the history of Mexico in the 19th and 20th centuries. They informed AAP’s fact-checkers that they had never heard of such a tradition. “Maybe some families did this, or some religious groups,” Tenorio wrote in an email to the editors of AAP, “but it certainly wasn’t a tradition, because I never read anything about it in the many newspapers, novels, documents and memoirs that I have gone through’. According to Macquarie University history professor Bronwen Neil, who specializes in the origins of Christmas traditions, the ‘tradition’ in the Facebook post is fiction. “It cannot be ruled out that it has happened in certain puritan sects, but I have never heard of it and it is certainly not mainstream,” she wrote in an email to AAP.
So AAP FactCheck found no evidence that the Christmas tradition of wives begging their husbands for forgiveness ever existed. Politifact’s fact-checkers have already come to the same conclusion, as have Truth or Fiction’s and Africa Check’s fact-checkers. No one has been able to find out exactly where and when the photo was taken.
A black and white photo is circulating on the internet in which we see five women kneeling in front of an equal number of men. It would be about women who ask forgiveness from their husbands in this way, according to an old end-of-year tradition, we read in the captions. But no credible Source can confirm the existence of such a tradition, either here or elsewhere in the world. We therefore judge that there is no proof is for the claim in the photo caption.
In the article you will find links to all sources used.
All sources were last consulted on January 3, 2023.