Over the centuries, the Feast of St. Andrew, celebrated on the night of the 29th through the 30th of November, stole the limelight from that of another saint. In Polish customs and tradition, it was a night of magic and fortune telling observed by young marriageable girls to divine who their future husbands might be. This custom, called andrzjeki, was once the province of just young girls but over time included young men and became what amounted to be a party with lots of teasing and merriment. Completely forgotten was St. Catherine of Alexandria, the third century virgin and martyr, who from the time of the Middle Ages, was the patron saint of young men and pious bachelors and patroness of a successful marriage in Polish tradition. It was on the evening of her feast day on November 24th into the 25th, that young men sought to determine something about their future marriage partners. The custom was called katarzynki, after Katarzyna, the Polish name for Catherine.
On this night, young men curious about their future paid special attention to their dreams: a white hen - meant a wedding with a maiden; a black hen - a wedding with a widow; a hen with chicks - marrying a widow with children; an owl - meant a wise but unmerry wife; a pigeon – a wife that was sweet and kind, but unfortunately, not too bright: a gray horse meant he would remain a bachelor for life.
Just as important as finding out her marital status and personality characteristics, was finding out her name. The men used a similar method as the girls during their night of St. Andrew's fortune-telling. Instead of cards with the image of St. Andrew , used by the girls, young men used holy cards with the image of St. Catherine, and on the back of the cards wrote the names of females they were interested in and placed them under their pillow overnight. This action gives understanding to the Polish proverb, “W noc świętej Katarzyny, pod poduszką są dziewczyny,” meaning, “On the eve of St. Catherine, the girls are under the pillow.” In the morning one of the cards would be drawn blindly from under the pillow to determine the name of the future wife.
Having learned these details about their future bride, there was still another detail to discover: would all this happen soon? To find out, it was necessary to cut a cherry branch (and some sources say apple or other fruit bearing tree) and put it in the water on Saint Catherine's day. If the branch bloomed by Christmas, it meant a wedding soon and a happy marriage.
In the end, as patroness of young bachelors and happy marriages, it was recommended that the young men attend church or a chapel and pray to St. Catherine for help and guidance in matters of the heart.
In Christian iconography, St. Catherine of Alexandria is always depicted with a wheel, the instrument of her torture and a palm, the symbol of martyrdom. Her image was often adopted as the crest for various noble families and for Polish towns and villages, such as the one above for Nowy Targ in southern Poland.
Ceremonies honoring the dead occur among people all over the world, regardless of place, worldview and religion. In the Catholic faith, it is on All Souls' Day(November 2) that cemeteries fill up with relatives and friends of the dead, often coming from far away, bringing flowers, lighting candles, and staying for a moment to be with those who are no longer among the living. Many individuals recognize it as the Day of the Dead. In the Polish language, it's called Zaduszki, All Souls' Day. In the doctrine of the Catholic Church, All Souls' Day is an expression of the conviction of the communion of saints, the resurrection of bodies, eternal life and the effectiveness of intercessory prayer.
All Souls' Day is derived from the practices of early medieval monks when services were held annually in various monasteries for their deceased brethren. In Poland, the oldest source confirming an All Souls' Day celebration is in the 12th century with the Cistercian monastery in Ląd in Wielkopolska(Greater Poland). In 1311, by decision of the Holy See, All Souls' Day was introduced to the church calendar and the Roman liturgy and gradually spread throughout the Catholic Church. By then, All Souls' Day was being celebrated by many more religious congregations, including Dominicans, Norbertine and Poor Clares, also among secular clergy in Kraków, Poznań and Gniezno.
One particular aspect of All Souls' Day was that of prayer intentions. The prayer intentions were something that had its beginnings in the Eucharistic liturgy of the very ancient church where the names of deceased bishops, kings, church founders, and later, the names of saints, were written down and read out loud by the clergy. The time and frequency of the reading the names changed around over the centuries based on the Vatican councils(before the Mass, during Eucharistic liturgy during the Mass, etc.) but during these remembrances of the faithful, the names of the deceased were read out loud and the public participating in the Mass was invited to join in praying for the deceased with the words "Dobry Jezu, a nasz Panie, daj im wieczne spoczywanie.” "Good Jesus and our Lord, grant them eternal rest." In some abbeys, prayer intentions were started for all deceased Christians, not just deceased religious individuals. The tradition remains to this day.
In Poland, this calling out of names of the deceased and asking for their eternal rest on All Souls' Day is called wypominki from the word wypominać, that is, to keep reminding. In this case, that the dear departed have not been forgotten. It is an intercessory prayer, an act of praying in behalf of souls who may be in Purgatory, awaiting entrance into heaven. At the same time, it is also an act of remembrance
The oldest existing text written in the Polish language calling to pray for the dead, comes from a fragment of a sermon from the 15th century:
"Do not forget the dead, all today remember the souls of your father, mother and your friends. I kindly ask your prayers for those souls whose bodies lie in this house, that is in the church, and also in the cemetery. I am asking you for one Hail Mary for their souls, whose bodies were lost in battle, at sea. I am asking you for one Hail Mary for the empty souls who are in purgatory, who have no help but look at us and call out: have mercy, have mercy on us."
Today, just as in yesteryear, throughout Poland and in Polish American churches, family and friends still submit the names of their dearly departed to the clergy for their name to be called out loud in church, in remembrance, in intersession. To hear the names of loved ones called out in the quiet stillness of the church, to hear everyone present raise their voices to pray for them is a true moment of spiritual and emotional communion between us, the living, and the dead. In that hallowed space, as their name is called, we are with those who are no longer with us... but are not forgotten.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.