On November 25th, it’s a French tradition to send a card to unmarried women in honour of St Catherine for Old Maid’s Day.
In years gone by, on St Catherine’s Day, women who had reached 25 years of age but were not married would be honoured and called Catherinettes. They would send postcards to each other, while their friends made hats for them. The hats were traditionally made using the colours yellow (for faith) and green (for wisdom).
Crowned for the day with these outrageous hats, the Catherinettes were usually the guest of honour at meals with friends.
The Catherinettes would make a pilgrimage to St. Catherine’s statue. They would ask her for help finding husbands for the unmarried lest they “don St. Catherine’s bonnet” and become spinsters.
Because of this hat-wearing custom, French milliners had big parades to show off their wares. Over time St. Catherine became the patron saint of unmarried women and of those employed in the textile and hat making industries.
This odd custom traces its history back to a story from the 4th Century. It seems that Catherine, a young girl was killed by the Emperor Maxentius when she rejected his amorous advances. Furious with her, he reportedly strapped the unfortunate maiden to a torture machine with revolving wheels designed to tear her to shreds.
According to legend, she was saved by divine intervention when the wheel fell apart. How wonderful! Except that her luck eventually ran out as she was later beheaded for converting people to Christianity. It is said that the Catherine Wheel revolving firework is named after her.
A Woman’s Prayers
St Catherine even has special prayers to avoid the perils of Old Maid’s 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!”)
Finally, 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!”).