“This time, there you are, Catherinette!” ” Address a young woman in this way, this November 25, 2022, there is a good chance that she will look at you, wide-eyed and bewildered. The tradition aiming, at their 25th anniversary, to celebrate young women to be married, has, it must be said, fallen into disuse. Because with the lengthening of studies, being single at 25 is no longer extraordinary. And that focusing attention on a person’s civil status by stigmatizing their gender is no longer really in tune with the times. “Sexist” and “discriminatory”, for some. At the very least “outdated”, and “retrograde”, for the others.
A fight for women’s independence
“It all depends on the interpretation we make of Sainte-Catherine and what we want to keep from this celebration”, rectifies Anne Monjaret, director of research – ethnologist at CNRS-EHESS, author of “La Sainte -Catherine, festive culture in the company” (CTHS, 1997) and “Les Catherinettes en fête” (Archives et cultures, 2008). Because yes, explains the specialist, “Saint Catherine marked, depending on the era, the end of celibacy with this injunction – “now it is time to get married” – given to young women. This image of a marriage fair was opposed by some feminists in the 1970s as aiming to confine women to the role of wife and mother. But, she immediately adds, this holiday also embodies, on the contrary, the fight led for their independence, for two centuries, by the workers of the sewing workshops who, thanks to their wages, were not forced to live under the yoke of a husband.
Mass and fair around celibacy
Styling the Sainte-Catherine dates back to the 16th century. At that time, the young girls who were still alone at the time when the matrimonial guardianship of their parents came to an end gathered, during a mass, and physically placed a headdress – hat, garlands… – on the statue of Saint Catherine, virgin born martyr. in Alexandria, in 290, self-proclaimed “fiancée of Christ” and who, as such, refused to marry. They implored the saint to put an end to their celibacy and, to give destiny a helping hand, went to the fair, in the hope of finding a husband there.
Tradition respected in haute couture…
In the industrial France of the 19th century, the celebration and its traditional attribute, the hat, spoke to milliners and the small hands of the sewing workshops of which Saint Catherine became the protector. In 1936, their collective agreement granted them free time on the afternoon of November 25 and, in 1961, the whole day. The eccentric green and yellow hats of the Catherinettes give rise to creative competitions. We dress smart, we dance, we laugh: it’s a day of celebration!
In many haute couture houses, a bonus is paid to workers on this day
“The workers take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere to tell their boss what’s on their minds. In many haute couture houses, a bonus is paid to them on that day, ”underlines Anne Monjaret. Before covid-19 put a brake on this good-natured fantasy, Armani, Azzaro, Chanel, Hermès, Jean Paul Gaultier, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent still lent themselves to the game of a colorful parade in the salons of the town hall in Paris.
… and in Pontivy!
In the period of gloom that we live in, the most improbable headgear is just waiting to come out, the balls just want to come alive. It is not the final year students of the Jeanne-d’Arc high school in Pontivy (56) who will say the opposite. Every year since 1963, the establishment has organized a real fake wedding and a disguised parade in town. A party of schoolboys, like a rite of passage… before diving into the preparation of the baccalaureate.
letelegramme Fr Trans