Michaelmas (or the Feast of St. Michael, St. Raphael, & St. Gabriel) is a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, and since it’s placed right at the beginning of Autumn, it incorporates all sorts of meals, animals, and flowers that are emblematic of that liminal time.
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HISTORY & LORE
Michael the Archangel was chief among the 7 archangels and head of the celestial army. The name “Michael” is a rhetorical question, meaning “Who is like God?”, and he has long been considered a champion of God’s people – a rescuer of the souls of the faithful.
On the Sunday before Michaelmas – known as ‘Domhnach Curran’, or ‘Carrot Sunday’ – Hebridean women would head to the fields to pull carrots, hoping for a lucky two-pronged root. If the soil were soft enough, they could easily pull the carrots – but, if the soil were hard, a three-pronged mattock was used to dig a triangle (called a torcan) around the carrot. The triangular shape symbolized St. Michael’s shield, while the three-pronged mattock used to dig it symbolized his trident.
Blackberries are also a significant part of Michaelmas tradition. According to legend, St. Michael cast Lucifer out of heaven on Michaelmas (originally, this legend was attached to Old Michaelmas – which was on October 10th). Lucifer landed in a blackberry bramble, and being so angered by the prickles, he spat on them – so, it became unlucky to pick blackberries after Michaelmas, since they would be spoiled.
Because of this association, blackberry desserts are a popular tradition for Michaelmas – whether blackberry pie or cobbler, it’s considered the last time of the season to use these late berries.
If you’d like to learn more about the history, traditions, folklore, & plantlore of Michaelmas, enjoy this free info sheet designed to help you build your Liturgical Year Binder:
Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Roud, Steve. The English Year. Penguin, 2008.