April 29 is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Catholic Church, mystic, stigmata, and one of the Church's incorruptibles. In old European tradition, it is also my name day.
I first heard of name days when I was dating my husband, Pete. Name days were much bigger than birthdays in the Latvian tradition. Pete always got a phone call from his mother on June 29, feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. And still, I always get my call from my mother-in-law on April 29--St. Catherine's day.
One of my grandmothers was named Catherine, and she died on April 29. Shortly after receiving the phone call informing me of my grandmother's passing, the phone rang again. It was my mother-in-law, calling to wish me a happy name day. I told her I had just learned of my grandmother Catherine's death. "Congratulations!" she exclaimed with unmistakable delight, very excited at this seemingly good news.
Mom-in-law went on to explain to me, newlywed cultural illiterate that I was, that Latvians believe dying on your name day is the best possible fate. If you die on your name day, you get your ticket punched straight through to heaven, non-stop. Well, okay then. That would explain the happy "Congratulations!" in response to "My grandmother Catherine died today."
I like the fact that Catherine was a writer. Of course, one doesn't become a doctor of the Church without the writings to prove one's stuff, so to speak. She is the patron saint of Europe, firefighters, and nurses. As if that wasn't enough to keep her occupied, she's also the patron against illness, sexual temptations, and miscarriages. It sounds like being a saint can be exhausting work if your name is Catherine.
There are 190 variations of the original Greek root for the name Catherine, including my own. So to all the Cathys, Caitlins, Kates, Kittys, Kays, and Kathleens who might be reading this--happy name day to us.