Michaelmas DayImage courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Yesterday, September 29th, was Michaelmas Day, Là Fhéill Micheil, the Feast of Michael and All Angels. It marks the end of harvest and the beginning of autumn and its shorter days. The archangel Michael was the leader of Heaven’s armies and defeated Lucifer.
Traditionally, blackberries should not be picked after St Michael’s Day because that was the date that Lucifer was expelled from Heaven as punishment for his dreadful deeds. He landed in a bramble bush, and burnt, stamped and spat upon the berries so picking them after that date is not advisable.
A traditional Michaelmas meal might consist of a goose fattened on the stubble of the harvested fields and carrots. This meal foretold good luck for the coming year. Sometimes the day was known as ‘Goose Day’ and goose fairs were held, when labourers looking for work after harvest could be hired.
Nottingham Goose Fair still takes place around this date. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I was eating goose when she heard that the Spanish Armada had been defeated and declared that she would eat goose on Michaelmas Day. Thus was a tradition formed.
The name ‘Goose Fair’ was first recorded in 1541-1542, though it probably had been in existence since the Charter of King Edward I (who reigned 1272 to 1307) referred to Nottingham city fairs, around 1284. 20,000 geese raised and fattened in the Lincolnshire fens each year were driven to Nottingham to be sold. Goose Fair used to be held for eight days from September 21st but was moved to early October in 1752, after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.Sculpture of goose girl, Wittingen, Lower Saxony, Germany
Asters, also known as Michaelmas daisies, are associated with Michaelmas Day. They are perennial, nectar and pollen-rich flowers which bloom in late summer and autumn and come in a variety of colours from white to pink, purple, blue and red. They are easy to grow in all but the most difficult soils, like heavy clay.Asters are named after the Greek for ‘star’ because their flowers resemble stars. The flowers were formed from the tears of Astraea, the ‘Starry Maid’, the Greek goddess of innocence, who cried when she saw there were no stars on earth.
Asters signify love, wisdom and faith and became representative of love after being offered on altars to the gods. In the Language of Flowers they symbolised love, patience and wisdom, as well as elegance and grace, two qualities greatly admired by the Victorians.
A posy of asters carries the message that the recipient should take care of themselves for the sender. Different colours say different things. Purple asters stand for dignity and admiration. Pink flowers symbolise innocence and love and white flowers also represent innocence as well as purity. Blue asters signify faithfulness and trustworthiness.