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What is Michaelmas?

Michaelmas is a festival observed in Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and other liturgical Western churches on September 29th each year. It is also called the "Feast of St. Michael and All Angels" or the "Feast of the Archangels."

Michaelmas literally means "Michael's mass." It is a holiday meant to honor the archangel Michael for expelling Satan from heaven (see this article for more on Satan's fall and this article for more on Revelation 12). Originally, the angels Gabriel and Raphael (not an angel mentioned in the Bible) had their own holidays—March 18th and October 24th, respectively. But at the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II in 1962), the liturgical calendar was revised to include honoring all the archangels on Michaelmas. Besides celebrating Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, some churches also include the angel Uriel (not an angel mentioned in the Bible) on this holiday as well.

Michaelmas began in the fifth century AD after the summer harvest as a way to mark the beginning of autumn. It was also intended to honor Michael for defeating Satan and his fallen angels and ultimately expelling them from heaven. The name Michael literally means "Who is Like God?" and is thought to have been the battle cry of the faithful angels as they fought Lucifer who claimed, "I will make myself like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:14). Tradition teaches that Michael threw Satan from heaven and he landed on a prickly blackberry bush on earth. Satan is said to have then cursed the bush, spitting (or even urinating) on it, rendering blackberries inedible after this date each year. So it has become tradition to eat blackberry pie, the last of the season, on Michaelmas.

Other traditional foods include carrots because they were harvested using a three-pronged mattock, representing Michael's trident, that left a triangular hole, representing his shield. St. Michael's bannock (a sweet bread made of barley, oat, and rye) and roasted goose are also eaten on this holiday. The Michaelmas Daisy, or Aster, is used in traditional decor and has inspired a poem: "The Michaelmas daisies, among dead weeds, / Bloom for Michael's valorous deeds. / And seems the last of flowers that stood, / Till the feast of St. Simon and St Jude."

Michaelmas, being on September 29th, marks the final quarter of the calendar year. In England, historically, it is a day for hiring servants, electing magistrates, and beginning legal and university terms. In North America, Michael is the patron saint of police officers and the US military, so Michaelmas is often a "blue mass" where those who work in public safety are honored. Wherever it is celebrated, Michaelmas is a time when people pray for help in their own struggle "to stand against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11).

The Bible warns that angels are not to be worshipped. When John fell on his knees before an angel, the angel replied, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God" (Revelation 22:9). The Bible also teaches that God alone is to receive our prayers (Matthew 6:9). So if observing Michaelmas includes worshipping or praying to Michael or any other angel, it is an unbiblical practice. However, if a Michaelmas observance simply celebrates God's victory over Satan and encourages prayer to Him for continued strength in our own struggle against the Devil, then there is nothing wrong with commemorating this holiday. Paul counseled the Colossians, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath" (Colossians 2:16). So Michaelmas can be celebrated in a biblical way if these precautions are heeded.

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