Michaelmas: Christians honor archangel, revive cooked goose traditions

Painting of angel in warrior clothing, and wings

A depiction of St. Michael the Archangel, defeating Satan. Photo by Waiting for the Word, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: Roast goose, blackberry crumble and apple dolls characterize a festival for an angelic warrior, celebrated with customs that date back many centuries: Today is Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel.

Observed in the Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran churches, the Feast of St. Michael honors the greatest of all the Archangels. Known for his protection against wickedness and darkness, it has long been custom on St. Michael’s Day day to encourage the Archangel’s aid for the coming winter months.

MICHAELMAS: FROM A ROMAN BASILICA TO UNIVERSITY

In the 5th century, a basilica near Rome was built and dedicated to St. Michael on September 30, with celebrations starting the evening before; thus, September 29 became established as the feast day for the Archangel in the Western Christian Church. (Wikipedia has details.) Shrines were built in high places for the Archangel of protection, and Mont-Saint-Michel has served as a place of pilgrimage for a millenia. Some Christian traditions honor Michael with other archangels on September 29, while others honor St. Michael alone.

Did you know? The Eastern Orthodox Church does not observe Michaelmas (with the exception of the Serbian Orthodox Church), and instead, the Greek Orthodox tradition honors archangels on November 8.

With a date near the Equinox, Michaelmas soon became associated with the start of autumn and quarter days—days when accounts were settled in England and Ireland. Michaelmas livestock and hiring fairs were held at this time, and many events in Scotland included processions and sports. Today, Michaelmas fairs continue in some parts of England, complete with music and dancing, art and delicious fare. (Read about this year’s fair at Bishop’s Castle.) Courts of Wales and England deem “Michaelmas” the first of four terms of the year and, at various educational institutions in Ireland and the UK, “Michaelmas” is, similarly, the name of the first term of the academic year.

APPLES AND BLACKBERRIES—AND THE REVIVAL OF THE GOOSE

Apple harvest at this time of year has given way to long-standing Michaelmas customs that involve apples, such as the carving of applehead dolls. In addition, folklore suggests that blackberries may not be picked after Michaelmas, because Satan fell from heaven into (or, as the story also goes, he stepped onto) blackberry bushes. Therefore, blackberry pies and crumbles remain a popular dish for Michaelmas. In Scotland and Ireland, a St. Michael’s bannock or St. Michael’s cake was also prepared. (Learn more about Irish Michaelmas customs, here.) Today, the British Goose Producers (BGP) is hoping for a revived Michaelmas goose tradition. On its website, a contact list of goose stockists can assist those in search of a holiday goose.

Looking for Michaelmas recipes? Find instructions for an array of menu items at Catholic Culture. For goose food preparation ideas,  visit Fish Easters, Food Network and AllRecipes. Interested in making applehead dolls? Mother Earth News has a how-to article, complete with the tradition’s history.

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