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St. Catherine's Day (Estonian: Kadripäev) is on November 25 each year. It has retained its popularity throughout the centuries and is still widely celebrated in modern-day Estonia. It marks the arrival of winter and is one of the more important and popular autumn days in the Estonian folk calendar.
Historical meaning of Kadripäev
St. Catherine’s Day commemorates the martyrdom of St. Catherine. St. Catherine was beheaded by Emperor Maximinus II in approximately 305 AD in Alexandria. November 25 became the commemoration date in the 10th century, and many churches and particularly nunneries in Europe were dedicated to St. Catherine. In Lutheran countries, including Estonia, this day has also been associated with Catherine, the wife of Henry VIII. In Estonia, five parish churches and at least as many chapels have been dedicated to St. Catherine.
Similar to St. Martin's Day on November 10, St. Catherine’s Day also marks the arrival of winter, but it holds less importance for Estonians than for some other Baltic Sea peoples (particularly the Germans). Also like St. Martin’s Day, St. Catherine’s Day is basically a secular holiday and is even somewhat pagan. Generally, St. Martin’s Day and St. Catherine’s Day are described by their differences: St. Martin’s Day is primarily a holiday associated with men and St. Catherine’s Day is associated with women, which means that the latter day has acquired a strongly feminine meaning.
The customs for the Estonian St. Catherine’s Day are generally associated with the kadrisants (kadri beggars) or kadris, which give the whole day a unique quality, although it is similar to the traditions practised on St. Martin’s Day. Both require dressing up and going from door to door on the eve of the holiday to collect gifts, such as food, cloth and wool, in return for suitable songs and blessings.
On Estonian farms, minding the herds and flocks were primarily the responsibility of women and therefore, St. Catherine’s Day involves customs pertaining more to herd keeping than farming. In addition, both men and women may dress up as women. In comparison to the mardisants, who were generally dressed in a masculine and rough manner and often wore animal masks, the kadris wear clean and light-coloured clothing, which is in reference to the coming snow.
As with mardi eve (the evening before St. Martin’s Day), when the village youth chose a mardiisa (father), the main player on kadri eve is kadriema (mother).
Regarding the songs for St. Martin’s Day and St. Catherine’s Day, the main content difference is that the former songs wished the visited families harvest luck and the latter songs luck with the herds and flocks, particularly with the sheep. On St. Catherine’s Day, in order to protect the sheep, shearing and weaving were forbidden and sewing and knitting were also occasionally banned.
St. Catherine’s Day has retained its popularity throughout the centuries, including the half-century of Soviet occupation, during which no direct official obstructions to the celebrations were made, probably due to the apolitical nature of the holiday. Thus, St. Catherine’s Day is still widely celebrated in modern-day Estonia. It is particularly popular among students and the rural population.
On St. Catherine's Day, it is customary for unmarried women to pray for husbands, and to honor women who've reached 25 years of age but haven't married -- called "Catherinettes" in France. Catherinettes send postcards to each other, and friends of the Catherinettes make hats for them -- traditionally using the colors yellow (faith) and green (wisdom), often outrageous -- and crown them for the day. Pilgrimage is made to St. Catherine's statue, and she is asked to intercede in finding husbands for the unmarried lest they "don St. Catherine's bonnet" and become spinsters. The Catherinettes are supposed to wear the hat all day long, and they are usually feted with a meal among friends. Because of this hat-wearing custom, French milliners have big parades to show off their wares on this day.
The French say that before a girl reaches 25, she prays: "Donnez-moi, Seigneur, un mari de bon lieu! Qu'il soit doux, opulent, libéral et agréable!" (Lord, give me a well-situated husband. Let him be gentle, rich, generous, and pleasant!") After 25, she prays: "Seigneur, un qui soit supportable, ou qui, parmi le monde, au moins puisse passer!" (Lord, one who's bearable, or who can at least pass as bearable in the world!") And when she's pushing 30: "Un tel qu'il te plaira Seigneur, je m'en contente!" ("Send whatever you want, Lord; I'll take it!"). An English version goes, St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid, And grant that I never may die an old maid.
And there is this, a fervent French prayer:
Sainte Catherine, soyez bonne</br> Nous n'avons plus d'espoir</br> qu'en vous</br> Vous êtes notre patronne</br> Ayez pitié de nous</br> Nous vous implorons à genoux</br> Aidez-nous à nous marier</br> Pitié, donnez-nous un époux</br> Car nous brûlons d'aimer</br> Daignez écouter la prière</br> De nos cœurs fortement épris</br> Oh, vous qui êtes notre mère</br> Donnez-nous un mari</br>
Saint Catherine be good</br> We have no hope</br> but you</br> You are our protector</br> Have pity on us</br> We implore you on our knees</br> Help us to get married</br> For pity's sake, give us a husband</br> For we're burning with love</br> Deign to hear the prayer</br> Which comes from our overburdened hearts</br> Oh you who are our mother</br> Give us a husband</br>