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Michaelmas – a feast with many meanings

Michaelmas, also known as the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, is a Christian festival. It is observed by most Western Christians on 29 September.  In civic life, Michaelmas has been one of the 4 quarter days of the financial year.

The roots of Michaelmas can be traced all the way back to the third century when it was converted from a pagan spring festival to a Christian feast day. However, while it was a widely practiced religious holiday, it wouldn’t become an official feast day until the fifth century.

The name Michaelmas comes from a shortening of “Michael’s Mass,” in the same way as Christmas (Christ’s Mass), which is the Mass where traditionally candles used throughout the year would be blessed). St Michael is viewed as one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels.

St. Michael is also known as the patron saint of the sea and maritime lands, of ships and boatmen, of horses and horsemen.

In the Church of England, Michaelmas is one of the two festivals at which ordination services happen. The other is Petertide at the end of June.

Because it falls near the equinox, it is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. It was also one of the Quarter days when accounts had to be settled.

On manors, it was the day when a reeve was elected from the peasants. A reeve was appointed as manager of the Manor and overseer of the peasants. Michaelmas hiring fairs were held at the end of September or beginning of October. This is where labourers were hired for a fixed fee. A local exception to this is that in Hull and other East Yorkshire towns, these fairs happened at the end of November – at Martinmas.

Michaelmas is also the name given to the first term of the academic year in many universities. It is also the name of the first of the 4 terms into which the legal year is divided by the courts of England, Ireland, and Wales.

UK folklore suggests that Michaelmas day is the last day that blackberries can be picked, so there’s a suggestion of something to do today……

Mary Vickers
author
Mary Vickers moved to North East Lincolnshire in 2010, from the Wiltshire/Hampshire border, to become Urban and Industrial Chaplain NELincs. Made redundant in 2017, she's maintained many of her connections within the business, faith, and other local communities. She's also decided to stay here rather than return to either the south or her husband's native Yorkshire, so that she can continue to enjoy and help promote the positives of NELincs.