25 November 2010

25 November - Thanksgiving; Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Today in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving, giving thanks to God for our many blessings.  And if an unemployed widow who is facing foreclosure can give thanks, so can you.

To my family and my friends, Happy Thanksgiving. 
(Maybe next year I can join you.  I shall look forward to that.)
Weather: As at Catherine foul or fair, so will be next February.
Overcast, chilly - rain forecast later.
Today is the feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages, usually recognized in the pantheon of Virgin Saints by the appearance of a spiked wheel near her. 

Her story, a highly embellished version of which you can read in The Golden Legend, was of a young Christian noblewoman, well-educated, who upbraided the emperor for his persecution of Christians and debated with the pagan philosophers sent to persuade her by learned arguments to apostatize; instead, her arguments converted them. After being beaten and imprisoned, she was condemned to die on a spiked wheel, but it broke when she was bound to it.  This so enraged the emperor that he had her beheaded, and thus she achieved the crown of martyrdom. 

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira discusses Saint Catherine's final prayer and ends with:  So then, let us ask St. Catherine to help us be calm in every situation in our lives, and especially in the risks and dangers of life, and even in the extreme sacrifice of death, if that should be the will of Our Lady for us. 

Catholic Online adds: "Maxentius' blind fury against St. Catherine is symbolic of the anger of the world in the face of truth and justice.  When we live a life of truth and justice, we can expect the forces of evil to oppose us.  Our perseverance in good, however, will be everlasting."

As a virgin saint, she is the patron of never-married women:
  • unmarried girls
  • maidens
  • spinsters
  • old maids
From the spiked wheel of her martyrdom, she is the patron of those who work with wheels in some form:
  • mechanics and wheelwrights
  • millers
  • potters
  • spinners
  • turners
  • knife grinders and sharpeners
For her reputed wisdom and education, she is the patron of collectors and disseminators of knowledge:
  • archivists, libraries and librarians
  • educators and teachers
  • scholars, schoolchildren, and students
  • scribes, secretaries, and stenographers
For her debating skill and persuasive language, she is invoked by those who need such skills in their work:
  • apologists and philosophers
  • attorneys, barristers, jurists, and lawyers
  • preachers and theologians  
As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, she was invoked against tongue diseases and sudden death. 

It is her patronage of unmarried women that gave rise to the traditions associated with today; this is a day not only to hopefully dream of a future husband, but also to ask for one. 

"A husband, Saint Catherine,
A handsome one, Saint Catherine,
A rich one, Saint Catherine,
A nice one, Saint Catherine,
AND SOON, Saint Catherine!"
(I've always like this prayer.  There is a hint of impatience in the final request.)

The one who would like to dream of her future husband should place a piece of wedding cake under her pillow, and her wish is sure to be gratified... providing that the piece of wedding cake has previously been passed through a wedding ring. [Now explain to your mother why there are crumbs and a smoosh of icing under your pillow]

A little more involved: Three to seven young women, no more or less, must assemble in a room where they are safe from interruption.  As the clock strikes 11 pm [2300 for military types], each must take from her bosom a sprig of myrtle, which has been worn there all day, and fold it up in a bit of tissue-paper.  They must then light up a small chafing dish of charcoal, and on the lighted coals each must place nine hairs from her head and a paring of each of her finger and toe-nails. [Since time is of the essence here, you might want to have all of this ready beforehand]  Each young woman must sprinkle a small quantity of myrtle and frankincense in the charcoal [which will hopefully rid the air of the odor of burning hair and nails], and while the odoriferous vapor rises, fumigate the tissue-wrapped packets of myrtle in it.  Then go to bed while the clock is striking the hour of midnight, placing the myrtle exactly under the head.

The instructions assure us that each young woman will be sure to dream of her future husband; HOWEVER, once again, the whole hour's performance must be passed in perfect silence.  Good luck with that.

From Observations of the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain:
"A writer in 1730 observes, "St. Catharine is esteemed in the church of Rome as the saint and patroness of the spinsters; and her holiday is observed, not in Popish countries only, but even in many places in this nation; young women meeting on the 25th of November and making merry together, which they call Catharning."    "Camden, in his 'Ancient and Modern Manners of the Irish' says, "Formerly women and girls in Ireland kept a fast every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the year, and some of them also on Saint Catharine's Day; nor would they have omitted it, though it happened on their birth-day, or they were ever so ill.   The reason assigned for this custom was, that the girls could get good husbands, and the women better ones, by the death or desertion of their living spouses, or at least by an improvement of their manners." "

Whereas the men (at least the blacksmiths) feasted well on Saint Clement's Day, two days previous, today it is a feast of women.  What a splendid time for a Girls Night Out! 

If you can find the wheel-shaped pasta, use it in tonight's dinner.  Pick your own favorite pasta recipe.

You might try making "Saint Catherine's Wigs"  (and another recipe here) or Cattern Cakes, which, from their description, sound a lot like cinnamon rolls, with the addition of caraway seeds.  So either use one of the recipes online (you will need to convert the measurements, as they all seem to be based in England), or get yourself a can of whoppin' cinnamon rolls, press a few caraway seeds into the dough before baking, and make life easy on yourself.  We spend so much time being broken on the wheels of our own making; perhaps today is a good day to sit back and let the wheel turn on its own.