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.
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!
If ducks do slide at Michaelmas,
At Christmas they will swim;
If ducks do swim at Michaelmas
At Christmas they will slide.
The Michaelmas daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael's valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.
'September, when by custom
Geese are ordained to bleed at Michael's
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.
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
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
The one Michaelmas custom that survives to this
that you should not eat blackberries after the 29th of September.
There is a very good reason for this custom, namely that by this time of
year blackberries are tasteless and watery.
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).
Michaelmas marks the end of the fishing
The start of the curfew for winter night
The local church bell sounded each night from Michaelmas until lent.
Curfew is derived from the French phrase 'courve feu', which means to cover, or
dowse a fire.
Mop Fairs (Hiring Time)
Michaelmas was traditionally
time when labourers and servants were hired. As the name suggests,
maids would carry mops, but other trades carried the tools of their trades.
Thus the squires or the lord's of the manor could tell what skills the
prospective employees had, for example, a Shepherds his crook, and a
gardener a rake.
'A Tree planted at Michaelmas, will surely not go amiss'
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
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.
Moon or Hunters Moon
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.
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
By Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth, 1903
Shine on, shine on harvest moon
Up in the sky,
I ain't had no lovin'
January, February, June or July
Sno Time ain't no time to stay
Outdoors and spoon,
So shine one, shine on harvest noon
For me and my gal.
There is also a poachers moon, but this comes later in autumn. Typically, the poachers moon would be the full moon at the end of October or early November.
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.
See more on the Chinese
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.
We are particularly anxious to collect more
Michaelmas jokes and funny stories.
Calendar of special day events, days of celebration:
• Special day today
Memorial Day •
Grand National •
Trafalgar Day •
Midsummer's Day •
Festival days •
Father's day •
Lady Day •
Earth Day •
• 4th of July •
Pamplona Bulls •
Blackberry day •
Tomatina Spain •
Friday 13th superstitions