Michaelmas (the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael the Archangels)

Michaelmas, celebrated on September 29, is a longstanding feast in the Catholic calendar honoring Saint Michael the Archangel. This ancient tradition serves as a reminder of the ongoing battle between good and evil.

The celebration is now more properly called the feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael the Archangels, celebrating all three archangels mentioned in scripture. But the older term, Michaelmas, is still sometimes used, especially in England and other countries outside North America, where it has significance in the secular calendar as well.

Origins and Historical Significance

The roots of Michaelmas can be traced back to the fifth century when the Church dedicated a day to honor Saint Michael, the archangel known for his unwavering devotion and victory over the forces of darkness. The feast was later expanded to include Saints Gabriel and Raphael, the other Archangels.

Michaelmas coincides with the autumnal equinox, a time when days begin to shorten and darkness gains prominence. As such, this festival represents the transition from light to darkness, both metaphorically and literally. It serves as a reminder of the eternal struggle between good and evil, with Saint Michael embodying the forces of righteousness and the angels as protectors of humanity.

Michaelmas was traditionally one of the four “quarter days” in England – the others are Lady Day, March 25; Midsummer, June 24; and Christmas, December 25. Michaelmas marked the beginning of legal and university terms, the opening of the hunting season for certain animals, and other secular calendar events. It was also traditionally a day to celebrate the harvest, given the time of year.

Customs and Traditions

Michaelmas is associated with a rich tapestry of customs and traditions that have evolved over the centuries. In rural communities, it was customary to have a "Michaelmas Goose," where a specially fattened goose was served as the centerpiece of the feast. This tradition symbolized abundance, as geese were often ready for slaughter after feeding on the bountiful harvest. Other traditional foods include carrots (a Scottish custom says women would harvest carrots on Michaelmas by digging triangular holes, which represented Saint Michael’s shield) and blackberries (legend says that when Satan was thrown out of heaven by Saint Michael he landed in a blackberry bush, and now he spits on blackberry bushes every year to make sure they turn bad if not harvested by September 29).

Another popular tradition was the baking of special Michaelmas bread, known as "St. Michael's Bannock" or "Soul Cake." These small round cakes, often marked with a cross, were distributed to the poor as a charitable act and as a way to pray for the souls of the departed.

In universities, Michaelmas marked the beginning of the academic year, and it was customary for students to elect a "Michaelmas King" or "Michaelmas Queen." This elected figure would represent the student body and preside over various events and festivities.

Symbolism and Spiritual Significance

The symbolism of Michaelmas revolves around light overcoming darkness, truth conquering evil, and the power of divine protection. Saint Michael, often depicted with a sword and scales, represents justice and the triumph of righteousness. His role as the leader of the heavenly army highlights the ongoing battle between good and evil and serves as an inspiration for believers to face their own spiritual struggles with courage and determination.

Although it can be prayed any time, Michaelmas is a great time to pray the Saint Michael the Archangel Prayer.


By Elizabeth Craig

Updated 06-21-2023