Today, September 29th, is Michaelmas. For those of you not familiar with the holiday, it’s the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. Michaelmas always comes after the Fall Equinox and the Holyrood Ember Days. This feast day is also, supposedly, the last day we should eat blackberries. (This is an edited repost from the archives)

Why is that? Because, according to legend, on this day St, Michael–Heaven’s greatest angel–defeated the angel Lucifer. At the end of a great battle, St. Michael banished Lucifer from Heaven. When Lucifer fell into Hell–now as the devil–he landed, bottom first, onto a thorny blackberry bush. In anger, he spit and stomped on the bush, cursing its fruit. (It’s also possible he did other things to the poor bush, but I don’t want to be too graphic or gross.)

So some believe that it’s not a good idea to eat blackberries after Michaelmas as they’ll be too sour. Of course, blackberries naturally sour in late September due to the changing weather. And I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that today is also National Poisoned Blackberry Day. As the old Irish proverb says, “On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries”.

Michaelmas, traditionally, was the day of the year that leases would end and begin, rents were due, and servants were hired or fired. Since all of the harvests were usually in by this date, it was also the time that debts were paid off and land was bought or sold. In the English-speaking world, this was also the time that magistrates were elected and law schools and universities would begin their terms. Our own rule of having elections in early November is tied to these old traditions.

Since the Fall Equinox marks the time on the calendar that the nights get darker and longer and the days turn colder and shorter, the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with the idea that we need protection during the darker months. Many used to believe that negative forces grew stronger in the darkness so starting on September 29th, after the harvest was in, families built stronger defenses to protect themselves. These protections included physical protection (fences, etc.) and making sure they had enough food put away for the winter.

But St. Michael’s protection also extended to financial issues. In Britain, a fattened goose was eaten to protect families against financial losses during the winter. There used to be an old English saying that goes like this: “Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day, want not for money all the year. ” This was such a popular tradition that some people called Michaelmas “Goose Day”. In some parts of Britain, people still attend “Goose Fairs” instead of harvest festivals. Regardless of how they celebrated, Michaelmas used to be one of the most important days on the calendar because it ensured the health and wealth of the family into the new year.

When I was growing up, we celebrated this holiday every year. We always made sure to pick all the blackberries from the bushes in our woods no later than September 28. Then, after church on September 29, we made Blackberries Pies in honor of St. Michael. Since it’s considered a feast day, we always added vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream. But this year I’m making Blackberry Hand Pies with a recipe I borrowed from one of my closest friends. I always make my own pie crusts, but you could use store-bought or frozen as well. For those interested in making their own, here is a link to my easy pie crust recipe: Butter Pie Crust.


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