The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Custom of Catherning

Source: John Brand, Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, Volume 1 of 3, Arranged by Sir Henry Ellis (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), pp. 411-414.

La Motte, in his Essay on Poetry and Painting, 1730, p. 126, says: "St. Catharine is esteemed in the Church of Rome as the saint and patroness of the spinsters; and her holiday is observed, not in Popish countries only, but even in many places in this nation; young women meeting on the 25th of November, and making merry together, which they call Catherninff."

[The following account of this custom was communicated by a correspondent to the Athenceum, October 31st, 1846 :— "Having been reared in a remote village in Worcestershire, your papers on Folk-Lore have recalled a custom to my memory, which was called going 'a Cattaring,' from St. Catharine, in honour of whom, and of St. Clement, it originated. About this season of the year the children of the cottagers used to go round to the neighbouring farm-houses, to beg apples and beer, for a festival on the above saints' days. The apples were roasted on a string before the fire, stuck thickly over with cloves, and allowed to fall into a vessel beneath. There were set verses for the occasion, which were sung, in a not unmusical chant, in the manner of carol singing. I can only recollect the first few lines:

Catt'n and Clement comes year by year.
Some of your apples and some of your beer;
Some for Peter, some for Paul,
Some for Him who made us all.
Peter was a good old man,
For his sake give us some:
Some of the best, and none of the worst,
And God will send your souls to roost.
I well remember it always concluded with—
'Up the ladder and down with the can,
Give me red apples and I'll begone.'

The ladder alluding to the store of apples, generally kept in a loft, or somewhere at the top of the house; and the can, doubtless, to the same going down into the cellar for the beer."

Some years ago (1844) Mr. George Stephens, now resident at Stockholm, communicated to me another version of the above lines, which contained some trifling variations. The last lines were,

"Not of the worst, but some of the best,
And God will send your soul to rest."

Until within a very recent period, it was the custom of the dean and chapter of Worcester, yearly, on St. Catharine's Day, being the last day of their annual audit, to distribute amongst the inhabitants of the college precincts a rich compound of [413] wine, spices, &c., which was specially prepared for the occasion, and called the Cattern or Catharine bowl. In another paper, in the Athenaeum, 1847, Mr. Allies informs us, that the following lines were sung by the children on the occasion of Catherning:

"If you're within,
Open the door and let us in,
And when we're in,
We won't come out
Without a red apple
Rolled up in a clout.

"Roll, roll,
Gentle butler, fill the bowl;
If you fill it of the best,
God will send your soul to rest;
But if you fill it of the small,
The devil take butler, bowl and all.

"Our bowl is made of the ashen tree.
Pray good butler drink to we!
Some for Peter some for Paul,
A few red apples will serve us all."

Mr. Allies adds, " I recollect that, in my juvenile days, I once saw, at the season in question, apples roasting on strings before the kitchen fire, at a farm-house, in Leigh parish, in this county, in the manner above alluded to. They were studded thickly with oats instead of cloves, and some of the apples so studded were not roasted, but each affixed on a wooden skewer, and dredged all over with flour, resembling, in a manner, a dandelion in full seed."

The following lines were taken down verbatim from the lips of one of the merry pack, who sing them from door to door on the eve of All Souls' Day, in Cheshire, and are similar to those quoted above:

"Soul Day, Soul Day, Saul!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all.
An apple or a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing that will make us all merry.
Put your hand in your pocket and pull out your keys,
Go down in the cellar, bring up what you please.
A glass of your wine, or a cup of your beer,
And we'll never come Souling till this time next year.
We are a pack of merry boys all in a mind,
We have come a souling for what we can find.
Soul! soul! sole of my shoe,
If you have no apples, money will do.

"Up with your kettle and down with your pan,
Give us an answer and let us be gone."

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