Michaelmas, also known as the feast of St Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on 29th September. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England, it is one of the “quarter days”, the others being Lady Day, Midsummer and Christmas. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas.
St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin, the celebration is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months. It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year.
A proverb goes: “On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries.” It is said that on this day, when Lucifer was expelled from Heaven, he fell from the skies straight onto a blackberry bush. He then cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, spat and stamped on them and made them unfit for consumption!
It is around this time of year that ‘naturalised’ Michaelmas daisies can be seen growing on waste ground and roadsides. Michaelmas daisies are ‘aliens’ from the north-eastern parts of North America. Michaelmas daisies were introduced as a garden flower in the eighteenth century and were widely planted in Victorian ‘wild gardens’ from where they escaped.
The act of giving a Michaelmas daisy supposedly symbolises saying farewell, perhaps in the same way as Michaelmas Day is seen to say farewell to the productive year and welcome in the new cycle.