A very happy Michaelmas to you! What am I talking about? Already people are
beginning to focus on the ‘countdown to the BIG DAY’ on the 25th December and are forgetting other more ancient agrarian festivals!
Michaelmas is one of the Christian quarter days – the others being March 25th, June 24th and December 25th – which closely shadow the equinoxes and solstices celebrated by older and other religions. This time of year is seen as the end of the time of harvest and is still marked by harvest thanksgiving services as we rapidly slide into deep autumn and towards the fallow months of Winter.
This has been a curious year of glut and dearth for crops. Some suffered badly due to the long cold winter and late spring or failed to thrive in the scorching drought which rapidly took the place of icy winds and snow. Others prospered. Many people have enjoyed wonderful crops of apples this autumn and I have rarely seen such magnificent or abundant blackberries!
However, everything comes to an end and any blackberries still hanging on their bushes after today must be left where they are. The old belief was that this was the day when the Devil fell from the skies to earth. Unfortunately, he landed in a bramble patch and was so angry that he cursed the innocent blackberry, stamping and spitting on it and scorching it with his fiery breath, so spoiling it and making it completely inedible. It could be argued that any fruit left at this late date is well past it’s best anyway! We have already had our first frosts of the autumn so perhaps the ‘scorching ‘ could be more gently interpreted as the cooling breath of Mother Earth as she encourages her fertile mantle to die back and rest for a while. Whatever, I have often been reminded to gather the last of my fruit before the Devil spits on it!
It was also traditionally on this date when servants were hired, wages paid, debts settled and rents collected and hiring fairs for these purposes were common. Some areas still mark the time of year with large gatherings and the Michaelmas Fair at Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire and the Nottingham Goose Fair are two such popular reminders of this auspicious date. Many people also aspired to serve a roast goose dinner to their families on this day as a goose at this time of year signified prosperity and tenant farmers would present their landlords with a complimentary goose when paying their autumn rents.
It has never struck me before just what a month of huge change September is; a pivotal month between the light, bright warm days of summer and the cold dark days of winter. We enter the month very soon after the last main national holiday at the end of August when temperatures are often still hot and the evenings relatively light but we leave the month with early morning frosts, bare fields and darkness falling soon after seven o’clock in the evening.
As a family we usually celebrate the autumn Equinox… the time of global balance when the hours of daylight and darkness are equal and a good time to seek that same balance in our own lives, and if we are out of kilter with ourselves, to do something about it.
It is also a good time to give thanks for all the abundance in our lives too; for all that we have and all that is possible for us, for the relative peace and security in which we live. Yes, there is much wrong with our world and a great deal needs to be done to set it right, but just now, here, this minute, while you are reading these words, stop and think of all that you have to be thankful for.
One of the ways in which I like to acknowledge the natural abundance from our garden and woods is to make an autumnal wreath to hang upon our door. Actually I make two – one for the front door which is sheltered by our porch and to which I can add little decorations which would otherwise be spoiled by the rain – and one for the back door which stands out in all that the elements can throw at it and which is completely natural.
If you like the idea, look around your garden, hedgerows or local park/woodland. Do not denude the countryside, remember that birds and other small wildlife rely on berries and seeds for winter feeding, just see what has fallen on the earth, has come to full fruition or is very clearly past its best. This year my Michaelmas wreaths are formed on hoops of thin willow whips and decorated with evergreen bay leaves and strands of colourful Virginia Creeper to which I have added fir cones, rose hips, beech masts, bunches of ash keys, florets of hydrangea, dried wheat stalks, alder masts and dried apple rings… and cute little fly agaric mushrooms of the kind sold as Christmas decorations and some little colourful synthetic apples which I just couldn’t resit while visiting Germany recently.
Please don’t think that you are too late to make a wreath for yourself if you would like to have one – get out into the world (not necessarily just the countryside) and see what is around you that is pretty, colourful, and represents to you the culmination of all the moths of sunshine and growth. And remember to be thankful for it all.
A very merry Michaelmas Day to you!