Monday, September 29, 2014

This week on the Celtic calendar . . . Michaelmas

"On Michaelmas Eve and Christmas,    We will all taste of the bannock." ~ Scottish Reaping Blessing

September 29 is Michaelmas, one of the cross-quarter days on the Celtic calendar.  Ostensibly the feast day of Michael the archangel in the Christian church, in the British Isles the day was celebrated as a harvest festival marking the end of the growing year.  It was a time to celebrate the abundance of the fields and streams before the leaner, colder season shifted the focus from field to forest, from gathering to hunting. Like many harvest festivals, Michaelmas was celebrated with traditional foods.  So if you were a Celt in years gone by, what would have been on your table this evening?  

Instead of a Thanksgiving turkey, you'd be enjoying a stubble goose, a bird fattened on the grain that remained in the fields after the harvest.  And if you were too poor to buy a goose for yourself, never fear.  Chances are you'd be given a goose in payment for services from the local lord or food would be shared with you from the community.  To soak up your goose juice, you'd have a slice of struan, a bread made from the grains harvested from those same fields that fattened your goose.  If you lived in Ireland, your struan would be a yeast bread, baked in the oven.  In Scotland, you'd have a slice of bannock (unleavened bread) cooked on a griddle. The ingredients of your struan would depend upon what grains you grew, usually some combination of oats,barley, rye, wheat or maybe even corn. 

If you lived in the Hebrides you'd also get one of your five-a-day with a healthy serving of carrots. The Sunday before Michaelmas, the women would take a three prong tool (designed to look like the trident of St. Michael) into the field and dig up the wild carrots, tying them with a triple strand of red thread keeping them covered with sand until time for cooking.  If fruit is more your thing, there would be apples from the beginning of the apple harvest and the end of the season's blackberries. According to legend, when Michael threw Satan out of heaven, the deposed angel landed in a blackberry bush and from then on has "spit on the blackberries" on the feast of St. Michael, making fruit gathered after September 29 unpalatable.  

No matter what was on your plate, however, Michaelmas was an opportunity to not only offer blessings for the harvest and all that helped bring it to fruition, but also a time to share that bounty with those less fortunate in the community.  So no matter what is on your plate this evening . . . be it stubble goose or KFC, take a moment to remember all those who made your food possible and all those whose plates are empty.

From a Celtic Blessing for Michaelmas
O Michael the victorious,
     Jewel of my heart,
     O Michael the victorious,
     God's shepherd thou art.

Be the sacred Three of Glory
Aye at peace with me,
With my horses, with my cattle,
With my woolly sheep in flocks.
With the crops growing in the field
Or ripening in the sheaf,
On the machair, on the moor,
In cole, in heap, or stack.
     Every thing on high or low,
     Every furnishing and flock,
     Belong to the holy Triune of glory,
     And to Michael the victorious.