The Holidays Celebrated In Colonial America

St. Catherine's Day

{ The 25th of November }

  St. Catherine was regarded as the saint or patroness of spinsters.

  Catherine of Alexandria was a scholar living in the early 4th Century. She was a daughter of Costus, a governor of Alexandria. She discovered Christianity and converted to the faith in her late teens. She then attempted to convert to Christianity the pagan Roman Emporer, Maximinus Daia. He had her arrested and then when he found that she was converting every visitor to Christianity, he moved to have her executed. Catherine was condemned to die on the wheel, but her legend noted that when she touched the wheel, it broke. Catherine was beheaded instead, but she later was known as St. Catherine of the Wheel.

  When young women met together on the 25th of November and "made merry", they were said to be Catherning.

  In Great Britain, children in the workhouses were permitted to walk in procession around the towns on St. Catherine's Day, as she was also considered the patroness of the workhouses. The children would tie colored ribbons on themselves and place a makeshift crown on whomever was the tallest and sing a ballad: Here comes Queen Catharine, as fine as any queen, With a coach and six horses a coming to be seen: And a spinning we will go....

  A tradition for young unmarried women was for a number of them to meet together in one of their bedrooms as the clock struck eleven on the eve of St. Catherine's Day. Each would take from their bosoms a sprig of myrtle that they had carried there all day. The sprig of myrtle was then folded in a piece of tissue paper and set aside. A small chafing dish of charcoal would be lit, and as it smoldered each maiden would throw nine hairs from their heads along with toe and finger nail parings. After each maiden made these burnt offerings, a small amount of myrhh and frankincense would be placed on the charcoal. Then each maiden would retrieve her sprig of myrtle and hold it over the smoke from the fuming charcoal in order to fumigate it. This all had to be accomplished in an hour, because as the clock struck twelve, the ladies had to get into bed, placing the myrtle under their pillows. As they slept, the young women would dream of their future husbands.

  Since St. Catherine was the patroness of spinsters, any unmarried young woman who wanted her marriage status to change, would pray to St. Catherine on this day, believing that it would be more efficacious.