29 September 2011


I was very tempted to go off on a rant today about people who speed on the highway, tail-gating me and making me feel pressured to get out of their way so they can get ahead and wait at the next traffic light about two seconds longer than me. But then I thought, no. There are better things to talk about: such as today's Feast Day. It's St Michael's and All Angels today! Happy Michaelmas. Just in case you didn't know, that's pronounced "Mickle-muss", not "My-kal-mass", just like Christmas is "Kriss-muss", not "Cry-st-mass". I found that out from repeated watchings of the definitive film version of "Pride and Prejudice", the one with Colin Firth: "Mr Bingley is to take posession by Michaelmas!" There's lots you can learn from classic films (handsome actors in wet shirts have nothing to do with any of that, of course; I watch them purely for the educational value).

Michaelmas is one of the four quarter days of the year, the other three being Christmas, Lady Day (March 25th) and Midsummer or St John's Day (June 24th), which of course roughly correspond to the solstices and equinoxes. Quarter days are when rents were due, and servants hired (or paid, I suppose). So when Mr Darcy says that "Bingley means to quit the place entirely at Michaelmas", that translates to him moving out at the end of the rent term (The bum! But then, he didn't, after all. He married Jane instead. So we're all good. Aah, romance...).

It's kind of an interesting to look at which important personages of the Christian faith got their names appended to the old seasonal festive days. Christ to the Winter Solstice, Mary to Spring Equinox (which would make sense, it being nine months before Christmas), John the Baptist to Summer Solstice (oh yeah - he was Jesus' cousin, half a year older than Christ! More sense there.), and Michael the Archangel to Autumn Equinox. I wonder why they attached the angels to autumn.

The name Michael means "Who is like God?" It comes from a beautiful legend of how Lucifer, the Angel of Light, challenged God, wanting to be like Him. The Archangel took him on, calling out the battle cry "Who Is Like God?" (somewhat by way of a rhetorical question, as I understand it). After a big struggle between Lucifer and Michael and their followers, Lucifer was defeated, and he and his minions cast into the outer darkness, henceforth known as Satan and the devils.

I don't remember where I heard that story - it's not from the Bible, as I had assumed; as a matter of fact, I think its origin might be Milton and "Paradise Lost". But as I've never actually read more than an excerpt of Milton (have you ever tried him? He makes the Victorians look downright concise. And that's saying something.), I must have been told the story as a kid. Anyway, that story is why St Michael is usually shown as a warrior, having it out with a dragon-like creature; sort of like St George, but the latter tends to wear plate armour, being the original Knight In Shining Armour, whereas the Archangel has the standard wing outfit.

In Bavaria, where I spent my teen years, they have Michaelmas Markets, which are country fairs where animals are bought and sold, ribbons handed out, and good times had by all. I remember one year seeing a classmate playing in the brass band by the beer tent, wearing the full outfit, Lederhosen and all, which was a bit surprising as he didn't look like that in school. Oh, and I had another classmate whose birthday, I believe, fell on or around St Michael's Day, and he was called Michael even though he wasn't Catholic. I think he's got a PhD in chemistry now, but that probably has nothing to do with any of this.

Life, the Universe, and Michaelmas. Now you know all about it.


  1. and I just learned my birthday is on St. John's day or Midsummer, which also happens to be my fave Shakespeare play--yay! Thanks for the very informative post. Have a lovely Michaelmas, and pooh on rude drivers~ :o)

  2. So glad to be of service! :) And St John's is quite the magical day (or night, rather); I believe if you listen carefully, on that night you can hear the animals talk. Check it out on your next b'day!

  3. Thanks,,,, I didn't know that.