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Project Britain
Folklore Calendar
stories, sayings, customs
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A month by month of forgotten legends and pastimes from Britain's folk history
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Facts about September
Customs and Traditions

Gemstone: Sapphire
Flower: Aster


The name September comes from the old Roman word 'septem', which means seven, because in the Roman calendar it was the seventh month. The Anglo-Saxons called it Gerst monath (Barley month), because it was their time when they harvested barley to be made into their favourite drink - barley brew. They also called it Haefest monath, or Harvest month.

The Romans believed that the month of September was looked after by the god, Vulcan. As the god of the fire and forge they therefore expected September to be associated with fires, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

September is the start of the school year. Students return to school after the six week summer holiday.

For more facts about the month of September please visit our Facts a Day calendar

All year round The missing 11 days!

Did you know?
Nothing whatsoever happened in British history between 3 and 13 September 1752.

The Gregorian calendar

The Gregorian calendar is the one most used nowadays. It is named after Pope Gregory Xlll who introduced it in 1582. There is a leap year every four years (or more precisely, 97 leap years every 400 years). This means that the year corresponds closely with the astronomical year (365.24219 days) so that it is just one day out every 3,300 years.

The Julian Calendar

Up until 1753, the calendar we used in Britain was the Julian Calendar. It was based on the solar year, the time it takes for the Earth to rotate around the Sun, and thus was less accurate than the Gregorian Calendar.

The Julian Calendar was 365.25 days long, which was fractionally too long, and the calendar over time fell out of line with the seasons.

All change - "Give us back our 11 days!"

In 1752 Britain decided to correct this by abandoning the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian. By doing so, 3 September instantly became 14 September - and as a result, nothing whatsoever happened in British history between 3 and 13 September 1752.

Many people believed their lives would be shortened. They protested in the streets, demanding "Give us back our 11 days!"

All year round Harvest Festival

Traditionally 24th September was the day on which harvesting began in medieval England.

farmerCalling the Mare

As the last of the crops are gathered in, there used to be a lovely ceremony called 'Calling the Mare'. The farmers all wanted to prove that they had the best reapers, so they tried to gather in the last of their crops before the neighbouring farmer did.

The last sheaf of the harvest was used to make a rough mare shape and it was quickly sent round to any farmers who had not finished gathering his crops. It was a way of saying to the farmer that wild horses would be after his crops, if he didn't gather them in quickly. The men would run round to the neighbouring farm, throw the mare over the hedge into the field where the other farmer was working, and they would shout 'Mare, Mare' and then run away.

The farmer, who received the mare, would then have to work quickly to see if he could finish before another farm did, then he would throw the mare to them.

The farmer who was last to finish had to keep the mare all year and have it on display so that everyone knew he had been the slowest farmer of that year.

Find out more about Harvest Festival

All year round Corn Dolly

Similar to the mare (see above), there is a custom of making corn dollies.


A corn dolly was supposed to have been the spirit of the corn goddess and dates back hundreds of years. People believed that the corn goddess lived in the corn and would die when the corn was harvested unless some of it was saved. So to make sure the corn goddess stayed alive until next spring sowing, a corn dolly was made from the last sheaf of corn for the corn goddess to rest in until the next.

29All year round Michaelmas Day

St Michael the ArchangelMichaelmas 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). Their oldest Curfew bell dates from 1380! Find out more

Goose Day

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.

Quarter Day

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. 

Old Michaelmas Day is October 10th

After the calendar reform of 1752, some activities traditionally associated with Michaelmas Day (29 September) moved forward eleven days to October 10, which is sometimes called 'Old Michaelmas Day'.

Michaelmas weather-lore, beliefs and sayings

Michaelmas DaisyThe 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.'

Michaelmas Superstition.

blackberriesFolklore 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.


All year round Festivals and Traditions

Conkers - A traditional game for this time of year
Conkers are the fruit of the horse-chestnut tree. Children have been playing with conkers for years. Read more...

date Horn Dance

On the first Monday after September 4th, in a town called Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, a very picturesque custom takes place. It is called the Horn Dance. Six men hold masks on sticks which have long reindeer horns attached to them.

There are two teams of three men each. One team's reindeer horns are painted white - the other's are blue. Each team dances towards the other as if to fight, then they go back, then advance as if to lock horns, and then go back again. After a while they pass each other straight over the the other side and they start again.

There are other people in attendance dancing as well - a hobby horse, someone dresses as Made Marion, a boy with a bow and arrow, a triangle player, a musician and a Fool.

date Gurning Competition

The World Gurning Championships are held at the Egremont Crab Fair in the Lake District in a tradition dating back to 1267. To gurn has many meanings but one of them is to 'distort the face' and making faces is just what this competition is - to see who can make the most awful face.

14thHoly Rood Day

Rood is another name for a cross and traditionally on 14 September children were freed from school or work so they could gather nuts.


Unusual Customs

All year round Anniversaries

1st September 1951 Britain's first supermarket opens at Earl's Court in London.
1st September 1971 The penny and the thrupenny piece coins cease to be legal tender as Britain continues the changeover to decimal coinage.
2 - 6th September 1666 The Great Fire of London raged for four days - destroying more than 13,000 houses and almost 100 churches - including St Paul's Cathedral. A total of 6 people are killed.
2nd September 1752 Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar.
3rd September 1939 – 15th August 1945 The Second World War. Great Britain, France, New Zealand, and Australia declare war on Germany after Adolf Hitler, refuses to withdraw his troops from Poland.
6th September 1527 Magellan completed the first circumnavigation of the world.
6th September 1852 First free public lending library opened.
7th September 1533 Queen Elizabeth I was born.
9th September 1835 The 'sport' of bear baiting was banned by parliament.
9th September 1835 Local government constituted in the UK.
9th September 1950 Soap rationing ended in Britain - introduced in 1942.
9th September 1087 William the Conqueror died
18th September 1839 George Cadbury was born.
19th September 1960 First parking tickets issued in London.
22nd September 1955 ITV started.
September 1735 Sir Robert Walpole becomes the first prime minister to move into 10 Downing Street in London which has since become the official home of the british prime minister.
23rd September 1940 George Cross instituted.
26th September 1955 Bird’s Eye fish fingers first went on sale.
26th September 1580

English seaman Francis Drake returns to Plymouth in the Golden Hind, becoming the first British navigator to sail the earth.

27th September 1825 The world's first public passenger rail service begins - between Stockton and Darlington in the north of England.
28th September St Wenceslas Day
28th September 1745 First singing of the National Anthem.
29th September Michaelmas Day.
29th September 1758 Nelson was born.
30th September 1928 Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming.
All year round

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