Michaelmas

Friend butterfly, friend butterfly, go fetch them one and all!
I’m waiting here to welcome every guest;
And tell them it is Michaelmas, and soon the leaves will fall,
But I think Autumn sunshine is the best!


—Cicely Mary Barker

* * *

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not . . .


—Revelation 12:7-8

Detail from La caída de Luzbel by Antonio María Esquivel (1839)

Michaelmas, or the Feast of Sts. of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels (or St. Michael and All Angels), is celebrated each year on September 29th. Its close proximity to the equinox makes it an ideal time to recognize the change of the seasons, and to prepare for the waning of daylight that happens as we turn away from the sun (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere).

A celebration for the Archangel Michael, who symbolizes light and protects against evil, helps to prepare us to endure both the physical darkness of the fall and winter months and the metaphoric darkness that exists in the world and in ourselves. While we certainly don’t want to terrify our children we do have a responsibility to guide them as they inevitably begin to see the suffering that attends our fallen world, so much of it caused by our own flawed nature.

The Christian apologist C.S. Lewis beautifully illustrated the duty we have to guide our children toward the light, toward virtue, in his essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children:

Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage . . . I think it is possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones . . .

Yes, children need to hear stories of virtuous knights in shining armor, and I would contend that St. Michael transcends any of this type of character found in a fairy tale. His bravery, righteousness, and strength make him the very embodiment of radiance and light. His name, from his question—Quis ut Deus? Who is like God?—is an important one for children to ponder.

Feast Day Preparations

In the morning on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, I like gather lavender-hued wild asters in the woodlands around my house. I’ve also planted some lovely perennial Michaelmas daisies in my garden to feed the bees and give me a reliable supply of flowers for this special feast day.

Even though St. Michael is associated with the color red, when it comes to my own Michaelmas decorations I tend to take inspiration from nature’s palette of purples and yellows visible everywhere this time of year. I use a yellow tablecloth and yellow cloth napkins on the table—you can create a vibrant golden yellow using the last of the summer’s marigold flowers as a natural plant dye. On the feast table I create a little centerpiece with my Michaelmas daisies, a couple of yellow or purple votive candles, and a postcard or two featuring St. Michael.

We spend the afternoon cooking our favorite Michaelmas feast day foods, which we all enjoy together in the evening. Each year I try to gift the children with some small token to remind them of the angels who surround them and intercede on their behalf—past gifts include framed guardian angel prints and angel books.

Recommended Reading

I encourage you to read Michaelmas, a sonnet by the poet Malcolm Guite, which begins: Michaelmas gales assail the waning year, / And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright . . . This poem strikes just the right tone for the season and the feast. You might also enjoy exploring these titles:

A Child’s Book of Angels, written by Joanna Crosse, illustrated by Olwyn Whelan
Angel Stories from the Bible written by Charlotte Grossetête, illustrated by Madeleine Brunelet & Sibylle Delacroix
Angels in the Bible Storybook, written by Allia Zobel Nolan, illustrated by Alida Massari
St. Michael the Archangel, written by The Benedictine Nuns of Perpetual Adoration

michaelmas 2
in the woods // last day of summer 8
michaelmas 7
michaelmas 8
michaelmas 9
saint michael
michaelmas spread

Michaelmas Feast Day Menu

[PDF for printing]

We typically eschew the roast goose (I’m a vegetarian), but we do incorporate several other traditional Michaelmas foods into our menu each year, including carrots and blackberries—British folklore says that Michaelmas is the last day that blackberries can be picked because when Satan was thrown from heaven he fell into a blackberry bush and cursed the fruit.


Curry Carrot Bisque
adapted from a recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Ingredients:
3 lbs. carrots, peeled and diced into rounds & small pieces (1/2″ or less)
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or other suitable oil
2 heaping tsp fresh garlic, minced
1 Tbsp high-quality curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper to taste
3 c vegetable broth
1 (13-oz) can coconut milk
1 Tbsp maple syrup, or other natural sweetener

Directions:
1. Cook carrots and onions in the oil, covered, until mostly softened.
2. Add the spices and garlic and cook for another minute or so.
3. Add broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
4. Add coconut milk and bring to a low boil.
5. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
6. Lightly purée the soup in batches using a blender or food processor, then stir in the maple syrup. Serve warm.


Saint Michael’s Bannock
adapted from several recipes

(Kitchen Note: This is not a traditional bannock, but more of a very hearty tea bread.)

Ingredients:
1/2 c rye flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 & 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c golden raisins
1 & 1/2 c buttermilk*
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg

*Buttermilk can be made using any cow’s milk of your choice and a tablespoon of lime juice, lemon juice, or vinegar per cup of buttermilk required. Add the juice or vinegar first, and then fill to the desired measuring line.

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. In a large bowl, sift both flours together.
2. Add salt, baking powder and soda to sifted flours. Add the spices and stir until mixed.
3. Add oats, sugar, and raisins to flour mixture.
4. Slowly add the buttermilk and mix by hand until thoroughly combined.
5. Pour into a greased bread pan and bake for 35-45 minutes.


Mixed Berry Crisp
adapted from a recipe by Williams-Sonoma

(Kitchen note: This recipe doubles the typical amount of topping for a fruit crisp, which is my family’s preference—feel free to halve if that’s more to your taste.)

Ingredients:
4 c fresh or frozen mixed berries (including blackberries)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 & 1/2 c light brown sugar
1 c flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick butter or margarine, softened, cut into pieces
1 & 1/2 c rolled oats

Directions:
1. Preheat an oven to 375° F. Grease a shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dish with butter or margarine, or spray with vegetable cooking spray.
2. Spread the berries evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the lemon juice.
3. In a bowl, using a pastry blender or fork, mix together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, butter and rolled oats until well combined. Sprinkle evenly over the berries.
4. Bake until the top is golden and the berries are bubbling, about 30 minutes.
5. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Serve hot or warm, with ice cream or whipped cream!

Clip art on this page created from elements © J Mattson Johnson, Skandia Design Studio