The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Michaelmas

St. Michael's Feast Day is celebrated on September 29

Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Vol. 2, pp. 408-409

Michaelmas. ó Michaelmas says Bailey, is a festival appointed by the Church to be observed in honour of St. Michael the Arch-angel, who is supposed to be the chief of the Host of Heaven, as Lucifer is of the infernal (one), and as he was supposed to be the protector of the Jewish, so is he now esteemed the guardian and defender of the Christian Church. In the "Observations on Days in the Rornish Calendar," I find on St. Michaelís Day the following:

"Arx tonat in gratiam tutelaris Numinis,"

which I translate:

"Cannon is fired from the citadel in honour of the tutelar saint."

It has long been and still continues the custom at this time of the year, or thereabouts, to elect the governors of towns and cities, the civil guardians of the peace of men, perhaps, as Bourne supposes, because the feast of angels naturally enough brings to our minds the old opinion of tutelar spirits, who have, or are thought to have, the particular charge of certain bodies of men, or districts of country, as also that every man has his guardian angel, who attends him from the cradle to the grave, from the moment of his coming in to his going out of life. His appearance in Cornwall on the Mount which bears his name in the fifth, or according to others in the eighth, century is a matter of local tradition. Pengelly Antiquity of Man in the South West of England, 1887, p. 13.

A red velvet buckler was formerly preserved in a castle in Normandy, which the Arch-angel made use of, when he combated the Dragon. At Mont St. Michel in Brittany Michaelmas Day is of course the grand anniversary, when the Bishop of the diocese comes over, and thousands of persons visit the spot. But on the Saintís Vigil there is an interesting and impressive ceremony in the evening, the priests and choristers forming in procession in the town below, and winding up the ascent to the church with lighted candles, singing hymns. A service succeeds.

Michaelmas Goose. ó There Is an old custom still in use among us, of having a roast goose to dinner on Michaelmas Day. Beckwith says: "Probably no other reason can be given for this custom but that Michaelmas Day was a great festival, and geese at that time most plentiful. In Denmark, where the harvest is later, every family has a roasted goose for supper on St. Martinís Eve."

Moresin refers the great doings on this occasion, which, he says, were common to almost all Europe in his time, to an ancient Athenian festival observed in honour of Bacchus, upon the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth days of the month Anthesterion, corresponding with our November. Aubanus seems to confirm this conjecture, though there is no mention of the slaughter of any animal in the description of the rites of the Grecian festival. It is observable that the fatted goose, so common in England at Michaelmas, is, by the above foreign authors and others, marked as one of the delicacies in common use at every table on the continent at Martinmas. Walpole, in "The World," No. 10, tells us : " When the reformation of the Calendar was in agitation, to the great disgust of many worthy persons who urged how great the harmony was in the old establishment between the holidays and their attributes (if I may call them so), and what confusion would follow if Michaelmas Day, for instance, was not to be celebrated when stubble-geese are in their highest, perfection; it was replied, that such a propriety was merely imaginary, and would be lost of itself, even without alteration of the calendar by authority: for if the errors in it were suffered to go on, they would in a certain number of years produce such a variation, that we should be mourning for good King Charles on a false thirtieth of January, at a time of year when our ancestors used to be tumbling over head and heels in Greenwich Park in honour of Whitsuntide: and at length be choosing king and queen for Twelfth Night, when we ought to be admiring the London Prentice at Bartholomew Fair."

Among other services John de la Hay was bound (10 Edw. IV.) to render to William Barnaby, Lord of Lastres, in the county of Hereford, for a parcel of the demesne lands, one goose fit for the lordís dinner on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. Blountís Tenures, ed. 1874, p. 188. In Deeringís "Nottingham," p. 107, mention occurs of "hot roasted geese" having formerly been given on Michaelmas Day there by the old Mayor, in the morning, at his house, previous to the election of the new one. Queen Elizabeth is said to have been dining on this dish, no doubt in her time perfectly usual as it is with us, when she received tidings of the destruction of the Armada. I append a group of literary notices or allusions. In Gascoigneís Poems is the following passage:

"And when the tenauntes come to paie their quarters rent,
They bring some fowle at Midsummer a dish of fish in Lent
At Christmasse a capon, at Michaelmas a goose;
And somewhat else at New-yeres tide for feare their lease flue loose."

In "A Health to the Gentlemanly Profession of Serving-men," by J. M., 1598, signat. I 2, is the following passage:

"He knoweth where to haue a man . . . that will stande him in lesse charge. . . his neighbours sonne, who will not onely maynteine him selfe with all necessaries, but also his father will gratifie his maisters kindnes at Christmas with a New-yeeres gyft, and at other festiuall times with pigge, goose, capon, or other such like householde prouision." It appears by the context that time father of the serving-man does this to keep his son from going to serve abroad as a soldier. Buttes, in his "Dyets dry Dinner" 1599, says that "a goose is the emblem of meere modestie."

"Geese now in their prime season are,
Which, if well roasted, are good fare;
Yet, however, friends, take heed
How too much on them you feed,
Lest, when as your tongues run loose,
Your discourse do smell of goose."

Poor Robin for 1695. According to the British Apollo," 1708:

"The custom came up from the tenants presenting
Their landlords with geese, to incline their relenting
On following payments."

In Kingís "Art of Cookery," p. 63, we read:

"So stubble geese at Michaelmas are seen
Upon the spit; next May produces green."
"September, when by custom (right divine)
Geese are ordainíd to bleed at Michaelís shrine."

ó Churchill. It is a popular saying, "If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day you will never want money all the year round." The practice of eating goose at Michaelmas does not appear to prevail in any part of France. Upon St. Martinís Day they eat turkeys at Paris. They likewise eat geese upon St. Martinís Day, Twelfth Day, and Shrove Tuesday, there. Green geese form a common summer dish at the inns of Court and elsewhere. Comp. Harvest-Home. [Vol. 2, pp. 408-09]

St. Michaelís Cake or Bannock. ó Martin, speaking of the Protestant inhabitants of Skie, says : "They observe the festivals of Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, and that of St. Michaelís. Upon the latter they have a cavalcade in each parish, and several families bake the cake called St. Michaelís Bannock." Western Islands of Scotland, p. 213. Speaking of Kilbar Village, he observes: "They have likewise a general cavalcade on St. Michaelís Day in Kilbar Village, and do then also take a turn round their church. Every family, as soon as the solemnity is ended, is accustomed to bake St. Michaelís Cake, and all strangers, together with those of the family, must eat the bread that night." Ibid. 100. Macaulay, in his History of St. Kilda, p. 82, says: "It was, till of late, an universal custom among the Islanders, on Michaelmas Day, to prepare in every family a loaf or cake of bread, enormously large, and compounded of different ingredients. This cake belonged to the Arch-Angel, and had its name from him. Every one in each family, whether strangers or domestics, had his portion of this kind of shew-bread, and had, of course, some title to the friendship and protection of Michael." [Vol. 2, pp.409-10]

Editor's Note: I regret that I am unable to provide a translation of any Latin or French passages. Also see from William Hone's The Every Day Book: St. Michael, The Archangel.

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