Tuesday, September 4, 2012


The following is a guest post by Charae on the topic of Michaelmas. Charae and her sisters, Lynnae, Leisel and Kayleen blog about Regency and Victorian life at The Crossroad of Time.

Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week. ~Pride and Prejudice~ 

The Crofts were to have possession at Michaelmas; and as Sir Walter proposed removing to Bath in the course of the preceding month, there was no time to be lost in making every dependent arrangement. ~Persuasion ~

Michaelmas was a day of celebration and religious observance which also served to mark the onset of a new season. When Michaelmas arrived the warm days of summer were already giving place to the cooler breezes of autumn and the sun was setting at an earlier hour every evening. The English year was conveniently divided into quarters each of which marked the change from one season to the next and was celebrated by a feast day. Christmas on December 25 marked the onset of winter, Lady Day on March 25 celebrated the coming of spring, the Feast of St. John on June 24 heralded the arrival of summer, and Michaelmas on September 29 announced the coming of autumn.

Michaelmas (along with the other three feast days) was originally a religious event. It served to commemorate the archangel Michael, who was seen as the great warrior angel of heaven, and it celebrated the day on which Michael threw Satan out of heaven. Legendary St. George and his slaying of the dragon were also commemorated upon this day for it was said that St. George was granted his heroic power from the archangel Michael. Reenactments of this brave feat were an enjoyable past time for young men.

As with many English holidays, Michaelmas was accompanied by its own special superstitions and traditions. A popular superstition was that, when the devil fell from heaven, he landed in a blackberry bush. Getting up from the thorny branches, he turned and cursed the prickly fruit and, as a result, the English refrained from picking any more blackberries after Michaelmas. Perhaps the fact the berries are already past their prime and usually sour by then served as a stronger deterrent than belief in an ancient superstition. During that season of the year the Michaelmas Daisy comes into bloom. Its light blue, pink, or white petals added a splash of color to the gardens which were becoming barren in the colder weather; the delicate flowers proved a pretty farewell to the warmer months. No doubt many young lovesick lads or lasses sat alone and secretly plucked the petals repeating the age old refrain "S/He loves me, S/He loves me not."

Another tradition associated with the day was the eating of a goose. The proverb associated with this tradition was “If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day, you will not be short of money all year round.” The origin of the tradition of eating goose is uncertain. One common explanation was that Queen Elizabeth was feasting on goose when she received the news of the glorious victory of England over the Spanish Armada. As a result she proclaimed that geese should henceforth be eaten on that day. The theory, however, seems to fall apart when you compare dates and realize that the Armada was actually defeated on August 8 and it is unlikely that Elizabeth would have heard such blessed tiding almost two months after the fact on September 29. I know that news traveled slowly in those days, but for good news such as that to take so long the messenger would have had to set out on hands and knees and crawled to England.

Since Michaelmas was the day when rents became due, often the tenants of an estate would gather for a feast at the home of their landlord. Tradition for some was to bring a goose fattened on stubble hay which some perceived as a bribe to discourage the landlord from raising the rent (after all, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach). This was also the day set apart for townsfolk to elect magistrates, for children to begin a new school year, and for tenants to lease properties.

Mr. Bingley takes possession of Netherfield at Michaelmas, the traditional time of year for securing a lease. The Crofts also take possession of Kellynch by Michaelmas. No doubt the desire to get settled in a place before the onset of winter contributed to the popularity of settling in by this particular date.

The feast days, therefore, not only proved a handy way of dividing up a long year but also gave the English, who need no excuse to celebrate, several days of feasting and fellowship rich in tradition and old fashioned fun. What better way is there to celebrate the coming of a new season and bid farewell to another?

Hillman, Michael. "September 29th." Chambers' Book of Days. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jun 2012
"Michaelmas." Historic UK. Historic UK , 2012. Web. 19 Jun 2012
Broomfield, Andrea. Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.
"Feast of St. Michael (Michaelmas)." fisheaters.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jun 2012.
"Trinity Season." Harper's Magazine. 1869: 70-71. Print.
Melton, Gordon. Religious Celebrations. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. 579-580.
Garrett Mattingly, . "Defeat of the Spanish Armanda." Oracle think quest. Oracle, 2004. Web. 19 Jun 2012,
Ban Breathnach, Sarah. "Michaelmas." simpleabundance. N.p., 2001. Web. 19 Jun 2012.
"MICHAELMAS: YOUR GOOSE IS COOKED." Agecroft Hall. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jun 2012.

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