Michaelmas Day 29th September
Michaelmas is the forgotten quarter-day. In medieval times the four quarter days were important, namely: Christmas, Lady Day, Midsummer Day and Michaelmas. While these days were the basis for financial calculations, they are also loosely coincide with the summer and winter solstices, and the spring and autumnal equinox.
The 29th of September marks the end of the harvest, thus Michaelmas had special significance for agricultural societies in northern latitudes. Fortunately, the rich heritage of customs associated with St Michael and All Angels has not been entirely lost.
Michaelmas Daisies (Aster novae-angliae)
The Michaelmas daisy is like a big mauve sister to the common little white daisy. Notice how both these daisies have the typical composite head. Botanically, the Michaelmas daisies belong to the genus Aster, where as the common daisy is Bellis perennis.
Incidentally, every cultivated plant grows wild somewhere, and every weed is welcome some place!
'September, when by custom
My grandmother always ordered a Michaelmas goose for the 29th of September, thus this custom flourished in living memory. As I hinted earlier, Michaelmas was a time to settle debts and to pay rents. An extension of this custom was for tenants to give their landlords a Michaelmas goose. The more I think about it, it should have been the other way around, the landlords rewarded the tenants for paying rent by giving them a goose. This shows how much I know about the working of feudal rituals.
As a boy I worked on a farm during the school holidays and I remember the canny farmer buying goslings and fattening them by getting them to eat the grain that the combine harvester left in the fields. Mostly the farmer out-smarted the fox by keeping the geese in the hen-house at night.
You can probably guess that goose tastes like chicken - only with more fat. Actually, what makes the goose special is a well seasoned stuffing. In addition to the breadcrumbs add plenty of parsley and a little marjoram. I remember one year that my grandmother added chestnuts to the stuffing.
Returning to the Michaelmas goose, to earn my supper I had to help my grandmother stuff pillows with the goose feathers. Curiously, my grandmother kept the goose wings for dusting the fireplace. She also carefully drained the goose grease and kept it for rubbing on bad chests. This meant kill or cure when I ever I had bronchitis or similar respiratory ailments.
Other Quarter Day Customs
When tenants came to pay their quarter's rent, they bring a fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent, a capon at Christmas, and on Michaelmas Day, a goose.
More Michaelmas Customs
Other fruits, particularly nuts and rose-hips also have customs associated with Michaelmas. For example, 'Hipping Day' in Yorkshire, or Michaelmas pie in Ireland (Made of apples).
Mop Fairs (Hiring Time)
Old Michaelmas Day Customs
There is evidence that Michaelmas was once celebrated later in the year, on the 10th or 11th of October, this is now referred to as 'Old Michaelmas Day'. There may also have been a time when both dates for Michaelmas were acknowledged.
I like the legend of teenage girls collecting crab apples at the beginning of September, and arranging them in the initials of boys they fancied. If they could still discern the initials on Old Michaelmas Day, then then true love and romance would follow. The legend conjures two unrelated thoughts in my mind, firstly, would other girls mischievously re-arrange the apples to form the initials of a different boy. Secondly, what is the modern equivalent of this courtship ritual?
It's interesting that certain customs transfer from one season to another. For example, two people snapping the the Michaelmas goose's wishbone and thinking of a secret desire. Also, the concept of a Michaelmas Pie with ring, according to this legend, the lucky recipient will be engaged by Christmas and marry by Easter. Variations on these themes occur at Christmas and possibly at Thanksgiving.
St Michael the Archangel
St Michael the Archangel is mentioned in the Bible. His role is to rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death. St Michael is seen as the good angel of death. Archangel means chief angel, thus St Michael hold's an important position, even though he is not mentioned that much in the Bible.
The Book of Daniel, chapter 10 is a good place to look for source information on St Michael. I almost forgot to confirm the obvious, that St Michael gives his name to Michaelmas Day.
To this day, the autumn teaching session at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge is referred to as 'Michaelmas term'. While it is rare that term actually starts on Michaelmas day 29th of September, Michaelmas sets the tone for this academic semester. Other quaint names for scholastic terms, include Hilary (after Christmas), Easter and Trinity (Summer).
Michaelmas Jokes and Stories (Most Michaelmas jokes are based on geese)
1) It's September and two geese are chatting in a farmyard
One says to the other, 'What do you do now that summer is over and you begin to feel lonely?'
The other one replied, 'Oh, I just have a gander around.'
2) Geese Zoologists
The chairman of the tourist board wanted to know more about a puzzling aspect of geese migration. The puzzling question all the visitors asked was why one side of the migratory "V" formation is always longer than the other side.
To start off the discussion, Eric wrote a report saying "We need $1M, to model the wind drag coefficients. Our meteorologists can predict potential updraft currents. Furthermore, our CAD department can then produce 3-d drawings of the predicted wing tip vortices. "
Next the chairman approached Marty, who was a professor at the local university, all he asked for was $500,000. We can train domesticated geese to fly in formations of equal length and then compare their relative fitness to wild geese.
In desperation the chairman turned to the undergraduate community, a third-year field biologist said that the reason one side of the "V" is longer is simply because there are more damn geese on that side!" Just buy my class a round of drinks at the union bar.
3) The Fox and Goose Riddle
Here is fox and goose riddle that I can imagine my great uncle Jenkin telling to the family on Michaelmas eve in the days before T.V.
A hunter has to ship a fox, a goose and a sack of grain across a river. Unfortunately, his boat is so small that he can only carry two of them in his little boat.
The problem is that if the hunter leaves the fox and goose together, naturally the fox will kill the goose. Furthermore, if he leaves the goose with sack of grain, that will be the end of the grain. How does he get all three over the river safely?
Answer to the Goose and Fox Riddle:
1st journey. Take the goose only, leaving fox and grain. Leave the goose on the far bank
2nd journey. Take the fox over, leave fox on other side. Cunningly return with the goose.
3rd journey. Take the grain over leaving the sack on the other side with fox. Returns empty - key point.
4th journey. Picks up goose again, and takes it across to join the fox and the sack of grain.
The full moon nearest to Michaelmas (strictly speaking nearest the autumnal equinox) has special properties, and is known as the harvest or hunter's moon.
The crucial point, which is lost on modern man, is that a full moon rises shortly after sunset. In most months the interval between sunset the full moon appearing is about 45 minutes, but around the spring and autumn equinox this interval is reduced to only 25 minutes. Thus a harvest full moon can artificially extend the evening light, which is useful for farmers and for those hunting wildlife.
Shine on harvest moon
Shine on, shine on harvest moon
Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節 is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is usually around late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar.
It is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the moon cake, of which there are many different varieties.
September or Autumn Equinox
It is logical that on two days of the year there is equal night and day. When I thought about the equinox, I realized that everyone in the world experiences this solar event on the same day. From the equator to the north pole, from England to Australia. For a variety of technical reasons the day can vary, but is usually around September 21st or 22nd. Thus Michaelmas Day is about a week after the Vernal Equinox.
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