After the calendar reform of 1752, some activities traditionally associated with Michaelmas Day (29 September) moved forward eleven days to 10 October, which is sometimes called 'Old Michaelmas Day'. Mop Fairs or Hiring Fairs took place on an around Michaelmas Day.
Michaelmas Day is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, celebrated on 29 September. St. Michael is the patron saint of the sea and maritime lands, of ships and boatmen, of horses and horsemen. He was the Angel who hurled Lucifer (the devil) down from Heaven for his treachery.
Michaelmas Day is traditionally the last day of the harvest season.
The harvest season used to begin on 1 August and was called Lammas, meaning 'loaf Mass'. Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local
church. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the season near Michaelmas Day.
Michaelmas used to be a popular day for the winter night curfew to begin - the first hint that winter was on the way. Curfew took the form of a tolling of the church bell, usually one strike for each of the days of the month that had passed in the current year and generally rung at 9pm.
The word curfew may derive from the French word couvre feu, meaning 'cover fire'. Curfew was the time when household fires were supposed to be doused. The bell was tolled every night, apart from Sunday, until Shrove Tuesday.
Chertsey is one of the last places to still ring a Curfew bell at 8pm from Michaelmas Day to Lady Day (29th September to 25th March).
Michaelmas Day is sometimes also called Goose Day. Goose Fairs are still held in some English towns, but geese are no longer sold.
A famous Michaelmas fair is the Nottingham Goose Fair which is now held on or around 3 October.
A Great custom in England was to dine on goose on Michaelmas. One reason for this was said to be that Queen Elizabeth I was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Armada was brought to her. In celebration she said that henceforth she would always eat goose on Michaelmas Day. Others then followed her lead.
Another suggestion, why goose are eaten, is that, as Michaelmas Day was a Quarter Day, rents were due and bills had to be paid. Tenants seeking delay of payment traditionally bought a goose as a present for their landlord to help seek his indulgence. Geese were supposedly very tasty at this time of year.
Labourers for hire
On the day after Michaelmas, every year agricultural labourers presented themselves, along with their tools, at the nearest market town. There they offered themselves for hire for the coming year. A fair followed the hirings and this was called 'Mop Fair'.
Michaelmas signaled the beginning of Michaelmas Term at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
Michaelmas weather-lore, beliefs and sayings
The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael's valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.
(The Feast of St. Simon and Jude is 28 October)
|Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
Want not for money all the year.
|He who eats goose on Michaelmas day
shan't money lack or debts to pay.
'If St Michael brings many acorns, Christmas will cover the fields with snow.'
'A dark Michaelmas, a light Christmas.'
Folklore in England holds that the devil stamps on bramble bushes or as they say in some areas, spits on them. Therefore one must not pick blackberries after Michaelmas.
The reason for this belief has ancient origins. It was said that the devil was kicked out of heaven on St Michael's Feast Day, but as he fell from the skies, he landed in a bramble bush! He cursed the fruit of that prickly plant, scorching them with his fiery breath, stamping on them, spitting on them and generally making them unsuitable for human consumption. Legend suggests he renews his curse annually on Michaelmas Day and therefore it is very unlucky to gather blackberries after this date.
If the breast bones of the goose are brown after roasting the following winter should be mild, but if the bones are white or have a slight blue hue then the winter will be severe.
The Victorians believed that trees planted on this day would grow especially well.
In Ireland and northern England, it was thought that if you ate goose at Michaelmas you would have good luck for the rest of the year.
In Ireland, finding a ring hidden in a Michaelmas pie meant that one would soon be married.
Also on this day....
10 October 1881: In London, the Savoy Theatre, Britain's first public building to be lit by electricity, opens with a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Patience'.