Monday 24 November 2008

Saint Catherine's Day tomorrow

Well, I am a bit early for this, but I thought I would remind my Anglophone readership that it is St-Catherine's Day tomorrow. I will write a post about it in French tomorrow with the usual nostalgia, children souvenirs nobody wants to hear about but my brothers and I, so I won't bother you too much with childhood memories. That said, Saint Catherine's Day is a fascinating little holiday that is sadly forgotten these days. It is one month before Christmas and for Quebeckers it used to be the last big day until Christmas. It didn't start the Advent, but it was still a way to pass time until then. It was, in effect, our Thanksgiving. It was also the day of unmarried women and spinsters, as Saint Catherine is the holy patron of virgins. As a child, I didn't know much about the saint, but I knew that "coiffer Sainte Catherine" meant, for unmarried women of 25, becoming "vieille fille", i.e. a spinster. As a child, 25 seemed very old to me, and I wouldn't understand why any man in his right mind would want to marry a woman so ancient anyway, so the tradition made sense. Obviously, I didn't know I was going to marry at 30 a woman aged 26 going on 27. In France, they had Saint-Catherine's hats or wigs to celebrate the event. In Québec, we used to make tire, which is taffy,"like Marguerite Bourgeoys" now a saint herself), who introduced taffy in America and evangelised natives by bribing them with the candy (the way we were told her story, that's how I understood it). So that's what I loved about Saint-Catherine's Day: the taffies, which we used to cool on snow, when there was some. Funny that a day so austere was also for us another day of sugar indulgence. But the holiday served also as a warning for the girls who were too eager to get a husband. We were told the cautionary tale of Colette, a maid approaching 25 who did not want to become a spinster, and who tried too hard to get married before Saint Catherine's Day. If you can understand French, you can read her story here. It's a beautiful conte québécois the way I love them: simple, dark, with no happy ending.

I didn't know how to commemorate the day, and then I found recently at total random this song by the McGarrigle sisters, which is called Complainte pour Sainte-Catherine. Granted, it is more about the rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal, not the day or the saint herself, but the "pour" in the title means that the song is addressed to the saint, so I took it as a sign. Anyway, I don't know if it is the thick Quebec anglophone accent, the use of joual, the way the lyrics picture perfectly a cold winter day in Montreal, but I found the song irresistible.

1 comment:

Gwen Buchanan said...

I like that you told this story Guillaume.. and although i don't understand French the song had a charming feel to it..

here I live in a bilingual province too but we never learned French.. It's a shame...

and Bless those virgins!!