November 25 – St. Catherine's Day

Posted on November 25, 2013

St. Catherine lived and died a long, long time ago – from around 282 C.E. to 305 C.E. A princess from Alexandria, Egypt, Catherine is said to have been a scholar who converted to Christianity at age 14, and who was beheaded by the Roman Emperor Maximinus II when she was in her early twenties.

The holiday began in the Catholic church but soon became a pretty secular celebration (like St. Valentine's and Patrick's Days). These days, it is especially popular in French Canada and Estonia.

From a revolving wheel of firecrackers (called a “Catherine's Wheel) and the baking of “Cattern cakes” in England to the celebration of “Catherinettes” (unmarried women) with greeting cards and outrageous hats (and sometimes parades wearing those hats) in France – St. Catherine's Day is celebrated in many ways in Europe.

In French Canada, girls make St. Catherine's taffy for boys that they like. The holiday is sometimes called “Taffy Day” (but, you know, in French). The reason for the association of candy with this feast day is kind of random – a woman named Marguerite Bourgeois started a public school in a tiny town that would eventually grow into Montreal; she wanted to lure First Nations children to the school, so November 25, 1658, she laid a trail of wrapped taffy on the ground from the nearby First Nations settlement to the door of the school! That seems pretty creepy to me!

In Estonia, the holiday is a sort of feminized version of St. Martin's Day. On the evening of St. Catherine's Day, people dress up as kadri “beggars” in clean white or light-colored clothing, and they go from door to door, singing songs, giving “blessings,” and collecting “gifts.” Because women traditionally kept the herds of sheep while men farmed, the songs and blessings deal with wishes for flourishing sheep herds, and the gifts are food, cloth, or wool. (On St. Martin's Eve, people dress up in dirty men's clothes and go door to door wishing other families harvest luck and collecting gifts of sweets .)

By the way, the reason for the clean and white clothing for kadri beggars is because St. Catherine's Day is associated with the start of winter and the coming of snow.

How about a mash-up of celebrations? Buy a big bag of taffy, and make an amazing and flamboyant hat. Tonight, dress up in your best white clothing and the hat, and go door to door to wish your neighbors well and spread the taffy cheer. You can represent the Catherine's Wheels by spinning glow necklaces on your arms as you walk from door to door! When you get home, enjoy taffy apple cake!

Also on this date:

Independence Day in Suriname 

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