It’s Michaelmas today, the Feast of St Michael the Archangel; it is one of the quarter days of the year which mark the changing seasons, but I’m not sure it is much celebrated or even noted any more. No doubt this autumnal celebration dates back to pre-Christian times, but was grafted on to the Christian calendar. Traditionally it is the 29th September, but in Suffolk it’s the 10th of October, and in Norfolk the 11th of October.
Michaelmas is very near the autumn equinox which is of course, harvest time, and particularly in the Middle Ages and through to Tudor times, was a reason for great celebration. it was also when farmers paid their rents and tithes, when servants were hired or paid off, and customarily animals, including and particularly geese were given in part payment. The reason geese were exchanged in this way was that this time of year was when they were fattest, having been put out in the fields after the drops had been gathered. Geese weren’t just given as payment, they were eaten at feasts and this was supposed to bring luck to the household or farm:
He who eats goose on Michaelmas day,
Shan’t money lack or debts pay.
Goose fairs have been held in various places, including Nottingham, since these times
There are other traditions and superstitions connected to Michaelmas; apparently 29th September is also called ‘devil’s spit day’ – after this day blackberries shouldn’t be picked or eaten as the devil had breathed and peed on them! Charms and amulets to ward off evil were best made at Michaelmas, as St Michael was the warrior archangel, and a protector against evil… This surely must be a superstition left over from pre-Christian times!