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November Holidays Asterisks appear next to saintsí names - see Celebrating Saints


November 16 St Gertrude
It's not clear to me why this saint who spent her life in a convent in Saxony writing about her spiritual experiences, should be a patroness of the West Indies but so she is and that seems a good occasion for a meal with a West Indian theme.

November 16 St Margaret of Scotland
If the West Indies theme of St. Gertrude doesn't suit you, how about a Scottish theme? This is the feast of the pious 11th century Queen who Christianized and civilized her gruff warrior husband, Malcolm, and the barbaric Scots, for which feat she is rewarded with the title of matron of Scotland. If you don't like this day, you get another chance to feast and celebrate the Scots on November 30th, St. Andrew's Day.
Gary Kronk’s site is always the first place I look for meteor information and I’m glad to see he’s rewritten the introduction to the Leonids so that it’s more general audience friendly:
http://comets.amsmeteors.org/meteors/showers/leonidsez.html

Maypole Dance

November 17 St Elizabeth of Hungary

Matron of bakers and Germany. My Lives of the Saints contains an image of St Elizabeth holding open her apron to show that it is full of roses. From childhood I vaguely remember a story about a pious Queen who was caught by her cruel in-laws while sneaking out of the castle with an apron full of bread to give to the poor. She opens her apron to reveal — a miracle! — roses.

Did I make this up the way people made up stories about St. Lucy ripping out her eyes because they thought the cakes she held on a platter looked like eyes? Maybe. Maybe it will also become part of folk tradition.

November 18 St Plato
The Macedonians watch the weather at sunset on the day of St. Plato (also called St. Plane-tree) carefully for it predicts the weather through Advent. In fact, it is said that Tsar Nicholas used the information gained from this weather oracle to predict the defeat of Napoleon as he marched towards Russia.

Abbott, G.F., Macedonian Folklore, Cambridge University Press 1903, p. 67,

November 19 Mary, Mother of Divine Providence
A day set aside for the honoring of Mary in her role as Giver of Fate. As a Catholic child, I was told that Mary had such a tender heart she could not deny any request, so we always prayed to her when we wanted something we thought God or Jesus might not approve.

Liz Greene in The Astrology of Fate, makes an interesting distinction between Moira and Providence:

When life deals a harsh and unexpected blow, then we experience the dark face of fate, which the Greeks called Moira. When life seems to be guiding us towards a goal and fills us with a feeling of destiny, then we experience the bright face of fate, which Christianity calls Providence.

Greene, Liz, The Astrology of Fate, Samuel Weiser 1984

November 20 St Edmund

"Set garlic and beans at St Edmund the King
The moon in the wane, thereof hangeth a thing"

Advice from Thomas Tusser, who wrote a long rhymed poem offering seasonal advice for the farmer in the 16th century. Gussow in her book on growing your own food says that she always plants her garlic after the first full moon (thus when the moon is waning) after the first frost, which would be this same tide.

Gussow, Joan Dye, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Chelsea Green Publishing 2002

November 21 Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
According to my Lives of the Saints, this was the day on which Mary's parents took her to be presented in the temple. Apparently the Jews often dedicated their children to God, sometimes even before birth, and brought them to be presented before their fifth birthday. Sometimes they remained in the temple, learning to serve the sanctuary and the ministers by making vestments and ornaments, assisting at the services, etc.

This seems like an auspicious time for creating a sacred robe or altar cloth, creating an altar or other sacred space in your home or garden or dedicating yourself to the service of your particular divinity.

Hoever, Reverend Hugo, editor, Lives of the Saints, Catholic Book Publishing 1965

November 21 Our Lady Halfsower/ Our Lady Manysower
In Greece, a good farmer should have sown half his field by the date of the Presentation of Mary, whence the name. It was also traditional to eat a dish made of several kinds of grain called polispermia (manyseed) or panspermia (allseed), a custom previously linked with the Greek lunar holiday celebrated on the 7th day of Pyanepsion. These special dishes were sent to friends. Handfuls of grain were thrown into fountains and wells with the wish, "As the water flows, so may riches flow."

In Anatolia, if the Pleiades set below the horizon, the weather will remain the same for the next forty days. The Macedonians say that seed sown before November 21st will sprout in a few days but seed sown afterwards will not come up for forty days.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Megas, George A.,
Greek Calendar Customs, Athens: B & M Rhodis 1963, p. 22.

November 21 Sun enters Sagittarius
Sagittarius was envisioned by the Romans as Diana of the Bow, whose brother Apollo also ruled music (perhaps a connection with St. Cecilia?), thus November was under her protection.

November 22 Martinmas Oldstyle
Before the change of the calendar, this was the approximate date of Martinmas in England, when servants flocked to hiring fairs to hire themselves out for a new year. It was also called Pack-Rag day, because they carried their possessions with them to their new homes. Since servants got an annual holiday at this time, at which they often returned home to welcoming feasts, it was called Rive-Kite (split stomach) Sunday in Yorkshire. Falling close to the American Thanksgiving, this provides us with another possible source for the American date and customs.

St Elizabeth of Hungary
St Elizabeth of Hungary

November 22 St Cecilia
The Her name derives from a Latin gens (family) Caecilius, whose root word is kaiko, one-eyed, which is the apparent reason why she is a matron of the blind and invoked for protection from eye-disease.

Her symbol is the organ, which she is credited with inventing, although that seems unlikely since she died, a martyr in Rome between the years of 161 and 192, supposedly by being suffocated with steam from a hot bath in her own mansion, then beheaded. A church was built on the site, which was near the basilica where Roman women had worshipped Bona Dea Oclata or Restitutrix, who also protected against eye-disease and blindness.

She is the patroness of musicians. Barbara Walker believes her myth was inspired by the Muse of Music, Callista, perhaps because she was buried in the cemetery of St. Callistus in Rome. More likely the association comes from a line in the account of her life written in the fifth century which mentions that she sang to God in her heart on her wedding day.

Auden wrote a beautiful poem to her called Hymn to St. Cecilia, Op 27. The refrain is:

Blessed Cecilia, appear in vision
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

Connolly (cited in OCY) found some interesting parallels between the legends of the Jewish Esther and the Christian Cecilia. Cecilia's basilica is in a part of Rome with a large Jewish population. St Cecilia's "station day" was the Wednesday after the second Sunday in Lent which is as many days before Good Friday as 13 Adar, the Fast of Esther, is before Passover (on 14 Nisan).

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999

November 23 St Clement
An early Bishop of Rome, who became the patron of mariners and ironworkers, especially blacksmiths, supposedly because he was martyred by being tied to an iron anchor and drowned in the sea. On this day in England, up until the 19th century, smiths fired their anvils by exploding gunpowder on them and marched about in procession. In the Midlands, children went "'clementing" for fruit and pennies, singing a rhyme about St. Clement, recorded by Kightly:

St. Clements, St. Clements comes once in a year
Apples and pears are very good cheer
Got no apples, money will do
Please to give us one of the two
Father's at work and Mother's at play
Please to remember St. Clement's Day.

Clement is also the patron saint of hatters, from a legend that says when he was fleeing his persecutors his feet became blistered and he put wool between his sandals and the soles of his feet. The pressure, perspiration and motion applied to the wool turned it into felt, a substance he is credited with inventing.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Hole, Christina,
A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1984
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

St Francis
St. Cecilia

November 24 Brumalia
In the Bzyantine empire, this was the beginning of the new wine festival, held in honor of Dionysos, which lasted until the winter solstice (bruma). It honored Dionysos and was condemned by the Church, but it was popular with the court and celebrated until at least the twelfth century.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999

November 23 Stir Up Sunday
The last Sunday before Advent begins was called Stir-Up Sunday in England, a name derived from the first words of the Collect read in Church on that day: "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people." This was creatively applied as an injunction to start making the Christmas puddings and pies, which folklore says, should be stirred clockwise with a wooden spoon, with all family members taking a turn in this order: mother, father, children and visitors.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987

November 25 St Catherine
St. Catherine was a virgin princess who refused to marry a pagan Emperor and was condemned to be broken on a spiked wheel, hence the Catherine wheel. Her mane means purity. Because of her great erudition (she demolished the arguments of 50 philosophers), she's the patron of philosophers and jurists.

Matron of all who use the wheel, including wheelwrights, haberdashers, carters and spinners, she is also the matron of unmarried women (spinsters). She was also held dear by lacemakers, perhaps out of confusion with Queen Catherine of Aragon who, according to legend, burned all her lace and ordered new when times were hard. It is said that the rhyme "Kit be nimble, Kit be quick, Kit jump o'er the candlestick," derived from this occasion.

Helen Farias considers her an avatar of the Indo-European fire deities like Feronia whose feast (see November 13) ushered in the period called Yule. She is possibly modeled after Kali who has a fiery wheel as an emblem. Certainly these images (found in the word Yule, the Advent candle wreath and St. Lucy's crown of candles) are ubiquitous at this time of year; as are folk customs forbidding women to spin (use a wheel). Durdin-Robertson says St. Catherine is a Christian version of Nemesis, the Goddess of the Wheel of Fortune (and thus perhaps with Mary in her aspect as Mother of Divine Providence (see November 19)). Spicer notes that her English chapels are located on high hilltops at Abbotsbury and Milton Abbas, supposedly because the angels buried the original St. Catherine on the top of Mount Sinai. In earlier times, unmarried girls made pilgrimages to these high chapels to ask the saint to find them husbands.

In London and Paris, children went "caterning" for apples and beer, using their Catherine bowl. In England, women went about during the day, often dressed in men's clothes, singing working songs and visiting their neighbors who offered them wiggs and a drink made of warm beer, beaten eggs and rum. After dark, they set off fireworks, particularly Catherine wheels.

Spicer says the traditional foods for St Catherine's Day are wigs and Cattern cakes, the holiday fare of lace-makers. Kattern cakes are round cakes made from bread dough, caraway seeds, sugar and eggs, usually cut into wedges. Wiggs are made of flour, butter and sour milk, flavored with ginger and other spices. They are poured into muffin pans and the dough curls over the sides when cooking which makes it look like a wig. In French Canada, a seventeenth-century teacher, Marguerite Bourgeoys, let her students pull toffee on St. Catherine's day and this custom is still observed in Toronto where the day is called La Tire (toffee) Sainte-Catherine.

In Northampton, child laborers who worked at spinning took a day off to parade, placing their tallest girl at the front, dressed in white, as Queen. In France, twenty-five year old women are supposed to give her statue a new bonnet on this day. Thus they are called catherinettes, a name applied especially to milliners. According to Robson, this holiday was still observed in Parisian fashion houses and dress-making firms in 1930.

In France, women over 25 marched wearing little white paper caps in St Catherine's honor and choose a queen who they escort through the streets. "To wear St. Catherine's coif" was an expression that suggested the girl would become an old maid. An old English euphemism refers to menopause as "turning St. Catherine's corner." Perhaps she should also be acknowledged as the matron of menopause.

On her day in France, women have the right to ask men to marry them. She is also called upon for help in finding a husband, with rhymes like these:

St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid
And grant that I never may die an old maid.

A husband, St Catherine,
A good one, St Catherine;
But arn-a-one better than
Narn-a-one, St Catherine.

Sweet St Catherine,
A husband, St Catherine,
Handsome, St Catherine,
Rich, St Catherine,
Soon, St Catherine.

In the Vodou tradition, she's associated with Oya, Queen of Change and Transformation.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence,
The Year of the Goddess: A Perpetual Calendar of Festivals, Aquarian Press 1990
Farias, Helen, "Calendar Notes,"
The Beltane Papers. To contact them, see thebeltanepapers.net.
Hole, Christina,
A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1984
Parry, Caroline,
Let's Celebrate!, Toronto: Kids Can Press 1987, p. 243.
Robson, E. I.,
A Guide to French Fetes, Methuen 1930, p. 69.
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
Yearbook of English Festivals, NY:H W Wilson & Company 1954
Teish, Luisah,
Jambalaya, Harper San Francisco 1979


St Catherine

November 27 Thanksgiving Day
The American celebration of Thanksgiving evolved from harvest celebrations. It closely resembles Martinmas (see November 11 and November 22) and other harvest feasts held closer to the Autumn Equinox (like Michaelmas on September 29).

The first Thanksgiving was religious, a commemoration of the date the first English settlers arrived at the Berkeley plantation in Virginia: Dec 4, 1619. The first Thanksgiving in New England was held earlier in autumn at the more likely time to honor a bountiful harvest.

For a long time, different areas of the country held Thanksgiving feasts on different autumn dates. Then in 1789, Washington named November 25 a day of national thanksgiving honoring the Revolutionary War. In the same year, the Protestant Episcopal Church named the first Thursday in November a yearly day for giving thanks. In 1863 Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November, Thanksgiving.

And finally, following the usual progression of a holiday from its early roots in a seasonal event (the harvest), to its association with political and religious agendas, we reach the culmination of Thanksgiving as a commercial event. In 1939, Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week to extend the Christmas shopping season. By 1941, the Congress declared Thanksgiving a legal federal holiday to be honored each year on the fourth Thursday of November.

November 27 New Moon in Sagittarius

November 27 White Moon
The eleventh new moon in the Chinese calendar is called the White Moon. This new moon marks the beginning of the month of Poseidon in the Greek calendar and Kislev in the Jewish calendar.

November 28 Shutting Up Windows
On the first day of the eleventh lunar month, the Chinese sealed their houses from the cold of winter. This holiday was also known as Fanguazi (Turning Jackets) because officials who had the right to wear fur jackets could now wear them.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999

November 29 St Andrew's Eve
In Rumania, the strigoli or vampires come out on the eve of St. Andrew's day so women anoint their locks and casements with garlic to keep them out. The vampires fight among themselves at crossroads, returning to their graves at cockcrow.

Yet St Andrew is also the patron saint of lovers, much like St Valentine. In Czechoslovakia, young women perform divinations on this night. To find out what her husband will look like, a woman goes out to the woodpile and pulls out a stick of wood at random. If it is slim and straight, so will her mate be.

In Hungary, young people pour melted lead into a glass of cold water through the handle of a key. The form assumed foretells the occupation of the future spouse. Dumplings are served with "fortunes" written on pieces of paper inside. In Poland, the method of fortune telling is called Andrzejki. Cherry branches are stuck into wet sand; if they blossom by Christmas, the petitioner will marry.

According to Tille, in Silesia, women got out at midnight to pluck branches from apricot trees, which they put in water. They bring the flowering branch to Christmas Mass and it enables them to see all the witches (recognized by the wooden pails they carry on their heads) while the clergyman is saying the blessing.

Tille, Alexander, "German Christmas and the Christmas-Tree," Folklore III (December 1892), 72.

St Raphael

November 29 Wreath Making Day
The Saturday before Advent begins is the day for making the Advent Wreath. Catholics light a new candle each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Sunday is the preferred day since it is the Sun's day. Pagans adopting the same custom might light a new candle each Sunday for the four Sundays before Winter Solstice beginning with November 25.

Gertrud Mueller Nelson in To Dance with God talks about how people in the far north removed wheels from their carts during the depth of winter. They brought these wheels into their homes and decorated them with evergreens and candles. This, Nelson says, is the possible origin of the Advent wreath. Although a charming story, I suspect it was invented after the fact to explain the circular shape of the Advent wreath.

As far as I know, the Advent wreath is a Catholic custom. An Advent wreath is a circle of evergreens with places for four candles: three violet for penance and one rose-colored (lit on the third week, which is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday) to symbolize the coming joy. Nelson says in her family, they use the traditional red candles and red ribbon to decorate their wreath. I like to use candles in the colors of the four directions: yellow for east, red for south, blue for west and green for north.

Helen Farias in The Advent Sunwheel, her book of suggestions for pagans wanting to celebrate Advent (which can be ordered from the School of the Seasons store), points out that the Advent wreath, made of greens in a circle shape and lit by candles is a potent symbol. The circle with the dot inside has long been a symbol for the sun and is still used that way in astrology. Helen suggests putting a fifth candle in the center of the Advent wreath, to be lit on the solstice, to make the symbolism more apparent.

There is another kind of wreath which is found in Germany and Scandinavia, made of apples and dowels (chopsticks would work too). Three apples with dowels connecting them in a triangle form the base and the fourth apple is suspended by dowels above the rest, forming a pyramid. The triangle and pyramid are also both sun symbols.

Farias, Helen, The Advent Sunwheel, Juno's Peacock Press (click here to order)
Nelson, Gertrud Mueller,
To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration, Paulist Press 1986

November 30 St Andrew

St Andrew the King
3 weeks and 3 days before Christmas begins

St. Andrew, a fisherman and brother of St. Peter, was the earliest Apostle. He is the patron of fishers and fishmongers, of Russia and Scotland. According to legend, he was martyred by being crucified on an X-shaped cross. The cross saltire, is also a sun symbol, which looks similar to a Catherine wheel or the rune of Gefjon, the Giver, which is associated with Freya, the great Scandinavian goddess who is much honored at wintertide.

Supposedly wherever lilies-of-the-valley grow wild there is a church dedicated to St. Andrew.

St. Andrew's Day is now chiefly celebrated as patriotic festival for Scots, featuring a glorious feast and much drinking. Traditional dishes include boiled or baked sheep's head, haggis and whiskey.

In England, the main custom associated with St. Andrew's Day, was squirrel-hunting. It is unclear why squirrels were hunted on this day but it is reminiscent of the custom of Hunting the Wren (also done in a noisy mob) on December 26.

St Andrew was, like St Catherine, a patron of lace-makers, and on his holiday (sometimes known as "Tander") they celebrated by feasting, drinking elderberry wine and sports. A special cake called the Tandra Cake is still served in Bedfordshire. It has a bread dough base to which lard, sugar, currants, lemon peel and eggs are added.

St. Andrew's Day is also an important festival in Lapland and a popular day for weddings.

Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1984
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987
Sassi, Dino,
Lapponia, Oslo: Mittet 1982, p 72.
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
Yearbook of English Festivals, NY:HW Wilson & Company 1954

November 30 Advent Begins
The period of Advent, which means "to come," is the period of waiting for the birth of Christ at Christmas, or for the birth of the sun at Winter Solstice. It is a period of anticipation, of looking forward.

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me:
And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple.

Reading for the first Sunday in Advent, from Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

In the Christian tradition, Advent is celebrated on the four Sundays preceding Christmas. In the pagan tradition, it is celebrated on the four Sundays preceding Winter Solstice. This year both coincide. In fact, Winter Solstice falls on a Sunday.

The main quality of Advent is waiting. If it were a tarot card, it would be the Seven of Pentacles. At this time we are unable to do anything but wait through the growing darkness until we can celebrate the return of the Light. Most Advent customs have to do with marking time: lighting one candle on the Advent wreath each week, opening another door on the Advent calendar. These markers show us in a concrete way how much time has passed and how much time is left before the event we so joyously anticipate.

Begin making your thirteen traditional cookies to serve on Winter Solstice. Light the first candle in your Advent Wreath tonight. Gather friends and family together to feast on traditional cookies and beverages and to listen to a winter story while the Advent candle burns. For cookie recipes or ideas on how to celebrate pagan Advent, order a copy of Thirteen Traditional Christmas Cookies by Waverly Fitzgerald or The Advent Sunwheel by Helen Farias, available from the School of the Seasons store.

For more ideas on how to celebrate Advent, see my article on Celebrating Advent

November 30 Dead Dance
In Ireland, the whole month of November was dedicated to the dead and they held their final dances before returning to their dwelling on the last day. A legend tells of the young woman who was foolish enough to go out walking on that night and sat down to rest on the side of a hill. A pale young man approached and invited her to a dance on the hillside. She realized after a while that he was a young fisherman who had drowned during the summer and all the other dancers were people who had died. She tried to leave but was surrounded by the dancers who whirled her around until she fell to the ground in exhaustion. Although she made it home to her own bed, she was suffering from "the fairy stroke" and despite the ministrations of the herb-doctor, she passed away the next night while the moon was rising and a faint music was hear from outside.

O'Farrell, Padraic, Superstitions of the Irish Country People, Cork & Dublin: Mercier Press 1982

St Andrew
St Andrew

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