As a true lover of British literature, I remember coming across the word Michaelmas at a young age, but not really understanding it. In Pride & Prejudice, Bingley is to "take possession before Michaelmas" at Netherfield. In Wuthering Heights it is used as reference for the passing of time during Cathy's periods of deep sadness. Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood are to be married at Michaelmas after their long journey in Sense & Sensibility. It always seemed to be some mysterious bygone holiday where all the characters picked blackberries and michaelmas daisies, ate roast goose, and perhaps held a harvest ball. So what is Michaelmas and why should we celebrate it?
Michaelmas, celebrated on September 29th, is a hearty harvest festival aligning with the autumn equinox. The autumn equinox is the waning of the harvest season. The harvest moon is typically the full moon nearest to the equinox. The moon appears full for nearly three days, rises before the sun sets, and appears larger than normal.
During this time livestock are brought in from their summer pastures. Most of the fruits and grains have been harvest, and preserved for winter. Financial accounts are settled after the harvest. Children return to school, as they are no longer needed to bring in the harvest. For centuries Michaelmas marked the beginning of the university terms of Oxford and Cambridge.
Religiously speaking, Michaelmas was the celebration of the archangel Michael banishing Lucifer, the serpent or dragon, from heaven. Nearly all religions in the history of the world have some sort of belief regarding heavenly messengers, or angels. The concept of an archangel or, as it is translated from Greek, "an angel of origin", is a thread of common belief between Christians, Jews, and Islam. Michael, the archangel, is referred to by name in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Qur'an.
While the accounts are all unique, each share the story of a great battle in which Michael is a staunch defender of truth and justice. Biblical accounts say that Michael was the angel to defeat and banish Satan from heaven to the earthly realm. During the Jewish feasts Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which take place around the same time as Michaelmas, angels and archangels are said to visit the feasts. The Qur'an talks about Michael's connection with the earth's creation, beautification, and divine maintenance.
These stories of Michael were the inspiration for many of the harvest traditions celebrated at Michaelmas. While we may look to the past for inspiration, we are eager to find intentional ways or restoring these traditions into our homes, filled with rich meaning gathered from a variety of sources. Here are a few ways that you can celebrate Michaelmas in your own home.
So the legend tells, when Lucifer fell from heaven, he landed in a blackberry bush, filled with nasty brambles. In his defeated anger, he cursed the berries causing them to rot. Therefore, blackberries need to be consumed before the end of the day on Michaelmas. So pick (with a berry basket and berry colander of course!) and use your blackberries on Michaelmas. Make pies and tarts, eat them on your cereal in the morning, make jam to eat later, or use them to dye fabrics that have been stained.
When Lucifer was banished from heaven, darkness fell upon the earth. As the dark days of winter are rushing forward with haste, light a candle for the evening and let it burn, and eat dinner by candlelight. We love our simple brass sanctuary candle or some of these stunning beeswax tapers made by a local bee keeper. Or for a more formal harvest feast, these tall twisted tapers will allow you And when darkness has fallen, wrap up in a blanket, and go outside to admire the harvest moon.
Part of the traditional meal on Michaelmas is roast goose. One of Michael's divine roles, was the nourishment of bodies and souls. The weeks before the harvest meal, the geese were let loose to glean the fields after the harvest. Shortly before Michaelmas, goose hunting season begins. The goose was said to bring financial success for the following year: “Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day, / Want not for money all the year”. If you aren't one for eating goose, let the goose find it's way onto your table in a different form, like this Goose Girl music box or pitcher.
Michael was also known as a defender of the innocent. Learn about the "everyday angels" in our society that are defenders: teachers, police officers, lawyers, and others. Find a way to say thank you to your own personal defenders, whomever they may be. Perhaps take them some of your blackberry harvest or a posey of michaelmas daises.
We are eager to celebrate Michaelmas alongside the likes of our favorite "Brit Lit" heroes and heroines, but we are more eager to introduce meaningful traditions into our own lives with more intention. While these traditions might be small, we hope that they are memorable.
Shop our Michaelmas collection.