An area of great importance for us here at the Museum is keeping alive the traditions of our historic rural communities, and how they celebrate the changing of the seasons throughout the year. A key focus of these traditions falls on Quarter Days.
Quarter Days are the four days of special significance that begin each quarter of the year, they include Christmas Day (25th December), Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer Day (24th June) and the Quarter Day coming up in our calendar, Michaelmas, which is on the 29th September. Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th September every year, to mark the end of harvest, the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. The celebration of Michaelmas is at a time in the year when the days start to draw in and the weather turns cooler. Traditionally families would celebrate Michaelmas as a way to invite good fortune and ward off negative forces, which were believed to grow stronger as the days grew darker. In England a well fattened goose, which was fed on the stubble from the fields after the harvest, was eaten as an offering in the belief that this would protect fortunes for the year ahead. In Scotland they celebrated in a similar way, with the St Michael’s Bannock (a large scone-like cake) which was created from the cereals grown. Through the celebrations of the day, the prosperity and wealth of the family was believed to be supported for the coming year. Michealmas was an important date to our ancestors from medieval times right through to the nineteenth century, when the tradition died out.
Nowadays Michealmas has been replaced with the Harvest Festival. This typically falls close to the autumn equinox at the end of the annual harvest and celebrates a successful bounty.