St Michael’s feast, or Michaelmas, is held around the autumn equinox, when the darker nights and colder days begin, for this reason the celebration is closely connected with protection from the negative forces which became stronger during the dark months. In the European traditions, by Michaelmas the harvest had to be completed and the new cycle of farming would begin. It was the time when new servants were hired, land was exchanged and debts were paid.
From the Middle Ages St Michael’s feast has been celebrated with traditional autumn dishes: goose and apples. According to the Irish and English folk beliefs, eating goose on this day protects from financial hardship. In many places there is a tradition to make special large loaves of bread for this day. In Scotland St Michael’s Bannock is baked, made of cereals from the family’s land that represent the fruit of the fields, and cooked on a lamb skin that represents the fruit of the flocks. The cereals are moistened with sheep’s milk, and by tradition the eldest daughter of the family is responsible of baking Bannock.
Traditional recipe: St. Michael's Bannock (Scotland)
- 1 1/3 cup (300 grams) barley flour
- 1 1/3 cup (300 grams) oat meal
- 1 1/3 cup (300 grams) rye meal
- 1 cup (220 grams) flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 scant teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
- 2 1/2-3 cups (625-750 ml) buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons (42 grams) honey or brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup (250 ml) cream
- 4 tablespoons (60 ml) melted butter
Mix the barley flour, oat meal, and rye meal. Add flour and salt. Mix the soda and buttermilk (start with the 2 1/2 cups) and then add to the dry mixture. Stir in honey. Turn out onto floured board and mix (as with all breads, don't over-mix), adding more buttermilk if too dry, or more flour if too sticky).
Divide dough in half, and roll each, on a floured board, into an 20 cm circle (about 1,3 to 2 cm thick). While heating a lightly greased skillet, mix the eggs, cream, and melted butter. Spread onto one of the bannocks and place the bannock, egg-side down, in the skillet and cook till the egg-side is browned. Put the egg mixture on the top side, flip the bannock and cook 'til the second side is golden. Repeat this application of the egg wash and flipping and cooking until each side has been cooked three times. Do the same with the second bannock. Serve warm with butter and honey.
The daisies flowering between late August and early October are called Michaelmas Daisies in England. An old custom is related to these flowers - one plucks off the petals one by one saying "She (he) loves me"/"She (he) loves me not" to know if one’s love is mutual by the phrase corresponding to the last petal. The act of giving a Michaelmas Daisy symbolises saying farewell, like the Michaelmas Day is seen as a farewell to the productive year and welcome in the new cycle.
Image: Michaelmas Daisies. Issued by Hungarian Post in 1968.
On Mount Gargano and its surroundings (in Puglia, Italy) the feast of the Apparition of Saint Michael is commemorated each year on May 8. The tradition is related to the legend about St Michael at Gargano, told in the section “Legends of the Angel”.
The Orthodox countries celebrate the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Chonae on 19 September, known also as simply Miracle. Besides its direct connection with the Miracle at Chonae, when the Archangel saved the sanctuary from being ruined by the pagans, the feast is also referred by the priests to the miracle of saving the souls of people before death, when St Michael appears giving chance of the redemption.
In Russia and Ukraine people tried to follow the fast and to avoid any kind of work on this day. In some regions they believed that St Michael would wander about in the shape of an old man, to check any time how people respected his feast, and if someone worked hard anyway or expressed the doubts of the Angel’s power, Michael was fast to react, sending a proper warning or punishment to that person.
Image: Michael the Archangel. A 13th-century Byzantine icon from the Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai.