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What do the French do on St Catherine's day?

Saint Catherine's day falls on 25 November and has been celebrated in many countries over several decades. It commemorates the martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. There are some customs that have sprung up around St Catherine's day here in France - we take you through them here!

 

Catherinettes, Paris, 1909. Public domain.
Catherinettes, Paris, 1909. Public domain.

Rather outdated nowadays, but on St Catherine's Day in the France of yesteryear, it was the custom for unmarried women to pray for a husband. Women who reached 25 years of age but had not yet married were called Catherinettes. Catherinettes would send postcards to each other and their friends would make outlandish hats to crown them for the day. The prayer to Saint Catherine would go like this:

 

« Sainte Catherine, soyez bonne
Nous n'avons plus d'espoir
qu'en vous
Vous êtes notre patronne
Ayez pitié de nous
Nous vous implorons à genoux
Aidez-nous à nous marier
Pitié, donnez-nous un époux
Car nous brûlons d'aimer
Daignez écouter la prière
De nos cœurs fortement épris
Oh, vous qui êtes notre mère
Donnez-nous un mari »

 

In a nod to this hat-wearing custom, in the run up to St Catherine's day, milliners from the big French fashion houses still create hats using the traditional colours of yellow (symbolizing missed marriage) and green (symbolizing hope) and give shows to exhibit the results. Here is a short video reporting on the St Catherine tradition at Chanel and at l'Atelier Michel:

 

 

 

On quite a different note, St Catherine's day is seen as the first day of winter and the ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. In France the saying goes:

« À la Sainte-Catherine, tout bois prend racine »

 

People really do live by this rule and will plant either on the day itself or as close to it as possible. Be careful - some species really do prefer to be planted in the spring!

 

Read our article on French gardening vocabulary

 

For keen gardeners, here is a video with Hubert le jardinier that explains how, at the St Catherine, you can make the most of the cutting season... Bonnes plantations !