‘Name day’ as important as ‘birth day’ for this grandma

| Cecelia MacDonald for The Catholic Spirit | November 7, 2013 | 0 Comments
Celia Schneeman, left, is pictured with her grandmother Cecilia MacDonald.  Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Celia Schneeman, left, is pictured with her grandmother Cecilia MacDonald. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

In some Christian countries birthdays don’t count. Your personhood is celebrated instead on your “name day,” the official feast day of your patron saint. The older I get, the more I would like to see us adopt that practice in the United States.

I never knew the grandmother I was named for, and I never gave much thought to my patron saint, Cecilia, until I had a granddaughter named after me, and this shared patronage took on a much more significant meaning.

When Celia was 2, we began a tradition of celebrating our “name day” together by having a one-on-one outing and making sure it included music, because our saint is the patroness of music.

Hitting the right notes

Our first few outings involved shopping for a new music-box. As she became older, we began attending theater productions. One year, after a hectic dash to make it to curtain time, we watched a whimsical musical production of “Cinderella,” and she fell asleep in my lap. I was in grandma heaven as her peaceful breaths calmed my racing heart.

On another feast day outing, we found our music at the History Theater, in a play titled “The Christmas Schooner,” and the songs were delightful. The play was about German immigrants who settled in this area, and Celia’s interest piqued when I told her that she descended from German immigrants on both her mom’s and her dad’s side.

No matter what we plan, it seems we always get a bonus surprise, which we accept as a gift to us from our patroness.

When the day fell on a Sunday, we began with Mass at St. Cecilia’s Church in St. Paul, and the bonus was that Bishop Lee Piché, whom we both love, was the celebrant. He told us that his mother is named Cecilia, too.

When Celia was 6, we went to the Landmark Center and took in an exhibit of musical instruments, but were disappointed because it was a dry and lifeless hands-off display under plexiglass — and we were in search of the sound and spirit of music.

Well, saints be praised, as we were leaving the building, we passed through a pack of teenage tourists — a choir group from somewhere upstate. Intrigued by the acoustics of the magnificent building, they broke into song, surrounding us with impromptu harmony. Celia was delighted to be standing at the center of our personal concert.

“We didn’t find music, but the music found us!” she said.

How do you celebrate?
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One year, she brought her trumpet along and gave me a concert in the parking ramp of the Mall of America. The simplicity was profound, but occasionally I get carried away planning more ambitious outings: We could fly to Phoenix to visit the exciting new hands-on Musical Instrument Museum, and then there’s the ultimate: a trip to Rome to pay homage at St. Cecilia’s tomb in the catacombs.

Because our feast falls on Nov. 22, sometimes weather is a factor. One year, the devil tried to put a damper on our holy day.

That morning, when I stepped outside to get my Sunday paper, there was a glaze of ice covering the steps and handrail, and I didn’t realize it until I was sprawled across the four steps, with my left leg twisted up under me. Nothing broken, but I was covered with scrapes and bumps and my shoe ended up a good eight feet away, next to the newspaper.

I gave up retrieving either of them. The street was so slippery that a strange car had skidded sideways into my driveway and was abandoned there. I knew that I wouldn’t make it to Mass that morning, but I asked St. Cecilia to melt the ice for us by the afternoon.

When I crawled inside to safety, the phone was ringing. As I limped toward it, lightning bolts shot through my left leg. “Hello,” I managed.

“Hi, Grandma,” Celia said. “My mom said I should call you and tell you to be very careful when you drive over to pick me up today because it’s very, very slippery out. I’ve been skating in the driveway without skates — you know, just in my boots. It’s really cool.”

My knee and ankle were swelling, and it would have been a perfect day to stay in my robe drinking cocoa in front of the fire. But by 2 o’clock my driveway was open and traffic was moving in our street, so I picked up my namesake for a memorable day.

When I told her that I felt bad about missing Mass, she said, “That’s okay. I went twice. Mom made me go with her yesterday, and this morning I was in the car with Dad and my brothers and they started heading for church and they didn’t have time to drop me off at home first.”

Celia is the seventh of nine children, and sometimes the family schedule takes priority over the individual’s preferences.

We went to the play at the History Theater and then to Macy’s to select another snow globe for her collection. I wanted to take her to the River Room restaurant, but it was closed. Celia sensed my disappointment and said, “That’s okay, Grandma. I think we should go to Ceci’s Pizza instead. We don’t need to go to a fancy place. The name is the important thing.”

So we “skated” to the car and topped off our feast day with the buffet at Ceci’s Pizza, and while we were sitting across from each other at the cold formica table, she gave me a heartwarming gift.

“When I’m a grandma,” she said, “I want to be a grandma like you.”

It made me feel sort of — canonized. And I’d swear that Celia had sprouted a halo. That’s what having your own feast day will do for you.

MacDonald is a member of ­Assumption in St. Paul.

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