Michaelmas in Celtic Ireland Sept 27, 2014 10:05:32 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Sept 27, 2014 10:05:32 GMT -5
Michaelmas in Celtic Ireland
Throughout the Celtic lands, Michaelmas – celebrated September 29 – marked the end of the harvest. This was the time when farm folk calculated how many animals they could afford to feed over the winter months and how many would have to be sold, or slaughtered and salted down for food in the barren times to come. In addition to livestock fairs, rural people attended hiring fairs, which were particularly important for farm laborers looking for winter employment after the harvest.
Michaelmas was also one of the regular quarter-days for settling rents and accounts, and often, because this was also the time of the “geese harvest,” many a farmer paid off his accounts with plump young birds hatched in the spring. Traditionally, on St. Michael’s Day, Irish families sat down to a roast goose dinner.
In many parts of Ireland, farmers gave geese as gifts to the poor and sold the down as fillings for mattresses and pillows. In several towns, Michaelmas was the day to elect a mayor. As the story goes, it was the tradition that the Mayor of Dublin could not be sworn in until after his counterpart in Drogheda. How this custom originated, no one seems to know.
Michaelmas also marked the end of the fishing season, the beginning of the hunting season and the time to pick apples and make cider. In County Waterford, it was also the end of the tourist season. This gave rise to a strange custom observed by those in the holiday trade – they held a procession to the beach and cast an effigy of St. Michael into the sea as a symbolic protest against loss of earnings.
According to Kevin Danaher in The Year in Ireland, the feast of St. Michael had no special significance in ancient times. It was the coming of the Anglo-Normans and the establishment of their legal customs that gave Michelmas an important place in the Irish calendar.
Along with the traditional Michaelmas Goose, there are references to Michaelmas Pie. In the old days, it was the custom to hide a ring in the pie and the person who found it would be married within the year. There’s another bit of old folklore that leads us to believe the pie filling may have included blackberries. It was once believed that on the Feast of St. Michael, the devil spat on blackberries (or worse!) and it was therefore unwise to pick and eat the fruit after September 29. According to the old tale, when St. Michael cast Satan out of Heaven, the devil landed on earth in a patch of brambles and returns each year to spit on the plant that pricked him, breathing his foul breath over it and trampling it into the ground. Wanting nothing to go to waste, especially when it came to food, believers in this tale would have gathered as many blackberries as possible and used them in pies, crumbles and jams. Apples were also plentiful at this time of year, so it is likely they, too, would have been added to the pie.
As for the main course – roast goose – how this came to be the traditional meal most likely began with the English settlers. During the Middle Ages, St. Michael’s Day was a great religious feast in most of western Europe, coinciding as it did with the end of the harvest. In England, it was the custom to eat a goose on Michaelmas, which was supposed to protect the family against financial need during the coming year. “He who eats goose on Michaelmas day shan’t money lack or debts to pay.”
Spring-hatched geese are ready for market beginning on Michaelmas and this goose harvest is known as Fomhar na ngean. The goose was supposed to be eaten by the end of September and the breastbone used to foretell the weather for the coming winter by holding it up to the light. A translucent breastbone indicated the winter would be mild, while a thick breastbone meant it would be a hard winter. A mottled breastbone indicated a variable winter. The front part of the breastbone applied to the early winter while the back half told of the weather for the period following Christmas.
Traditionally, celebration of this holiday was symbolized with “glofe, gees and gyngeuer,” (glove, geese and ginger). The glove represented the open-handedness and generosity of the lord of the village, eating goose brought good luck in the coming year and ginger was believed to provide protection against infection.
Since geese were so plentiful and ready to be harvested, it is easy to understand why a goose became the traditional main course. However, there is a fascinating story that has become part of British folklore. Supposedly, Queen Elizabeth I dined at the ancient seat of Sir Neville Umfreyville, where, among other things, two fine geese were provided for dinner. The queen, having eaten heartily, called for a bumper of burgundy; and as a toast, declared: “Destruction to the Spanish Armada!” Scarcely had she spoken when a messenger announced the destruction of the fleet by a storm. The queen demanded a second bumper, and declared: “Henceforth shall a goose commemorate this great victory.” This tale is marred by the awkward circumstance that the thanksgiving sermon for the victory was preached at St. Paul’s on August 20 and the fleet was dispersed by the winds in July.
There are other customs and traditions associated with the day: “A tree planted at Michaelmas, will surely not go amiss,” and there’s also this quaint old verse:
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.
In some areas, a cake called St. Michael’s Bannock was also baked on this day.
Sources: Irish Culture and Customs; ItMustBeIrish; and Celebrations of the Past.