Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fun, Feasting, and Beating the Devil With Swords: a Family Michaelmas

The first I ever heard of Michaelmas was in Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch and other olden-timey English books. Apparently, it was one of the four days during the year on which servants were hired and rents were collected, so it comes up a lot in books. Also they always eat a goose, which made it particularly memorable.

Fast forward a few years, and I had kids, many of whom were boys, and we were trying to incorporate more of the feasts of the liturgical year into our family life. Since my boys were big fans of St. Michael, and of vanquishing the devil and whatnot, Michaelmas seemed like a good one to start celebrating. So we did.


It has since become (along with Easter, Christmas, the Assumption [aka Wafflesdaggen], and Fat Tuesday) one of the most anticipated days of the year in our house. We love it!


The kids mostly love it because of this pinata:




Grandad and the kids built it out of cardboard five years ago for our first Michaelmas party and it's still going strong. Each year we just make a new candy pouch to attach to his tummy, so the kids can wail on him with wooden swords all over again. We hang him from our backyard tree house, and he dangles beneath a cardboard St. Michael, who has cast him down from heaven. It's pretty awesome (thanks Grandad!) and is both the main activity and the main decoration of the party each year.




But it IS a feast, after all, so the food is the most important thing. I keep hoping that someday they will let me cook a goose. But so far I have been expressly forbidden to do so. The first year we threw the party I special ordered one from our grocery butcher counter, but I guess they thought I was joking, because it never came in and I had to make chicken, and there was great rejoicing in the Tierney house.



look how happy this guy is that he gets to cook this goose
Anyway, my compromise the last couple of years has been to make cornish game hens. They're a bit, well, game-ier than chicken and so seem a bit more exotic. And it feels old fashioned somehow to have a whole bird (or half of one anyway) sitting on your plate. Since I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen the whole time our guests are here I usually just roast potatoes and onions underneath the hens, and make a green salad with blackberries (more on that in a minute), and a vegetable (usually asparagus spears!), that's the whole feast.

But the fun part is the appetizers and desserts and drinks. Usually I ask our guests to bring something to share and we always get great stuff like deviled eggs, angel food cake, devil's food cake, etc. I also like to put out a bowl of flamin' hot cheetos and watch the kids dare each other to eat them. Hilarious.


The husband is in charge of the drinks. With dinner we have wine. This one is our favorite anyway, and perfect for the day!





As the guests are arriving we like to go old school and offer folks a cocktail . . . 


The husband made this up in 5 minutes last Michaelmas and calls it The Battle of Heaven (see Revelation 12:7)
Muddle 2 lime wedges and 3-4 small-to-medium mint leaves in an 8 oz jelly jar (or other extremely classy cocktail glassware)
Fill glass 2/3 full with ice cubes
Add 1 shot (1.5 oz) of blackberry brandy (we have used Hiram Walker's)
Fill remainder of glass with chilled club soda
Stir, garnish with 1-2 fresh blackberries, and serve
Enjoy and repeat
In the Battle of Heaven, we win.




and I make a blackberry fizzy punch for the kids:



blackberry juice, sprite, berry sorbet,
mint sprigs and fresh blackberries for garnish


Why all the blackberries you ask? Well, according to legend (according to Wikipedia):
Backberries should not be picked after this date. This is because, so folklore goes, Satan was banished from Heaven on this day, fell into a blackberry bush and cursed the brambles as he fell into them. In Yorkshire, it is said that the devil had spat on them. According to Morrell (1977), this old legend is well known in all parts of the United Kingdom, even as far north as the Orkney Islands. In Cornwall, a similar legend prevails, however, the saying goes that the devil urinated on them.
So, since the blackberries will be unfit to eat tomorrow, we eat a lot of them today!

When we host dinner parties, we don't usually have any activities planned for the kids. The grownups sit and visit, the kids run around the backyard like crazy people and everyone's happy. But for Michaelmas, we make sure to all recite the St. Michael Prayer before dinner, and after dinner we gather all the kids up and read them this book:



The Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm by Laura Amy Schlitz
I just adore this story. It's romantic for the girls and gross for the boys and shows the power of prayer in an extraordinarily beautiful way. And the devil gets his you-know-what handed to him, so it's perfect for Michaelmas.

Finally, we let the kids whack on the devil until he spills his candy guts and a good time is had by all.





Happy Michaelmas everyone!


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And here's what I wore to Mass and for the party (except I'm probably going to change to flat shoes!).



Dress & Sweater: J Crew Library
Shoes: Kenneth Cole reaction
Necklaces: family pearls, new old key
Bump: 31 weeks

Thanks to the good ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for hosting yet another What I Wore Sunday. Head on over to check out what everyone else wore to Mass today!  




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11 comments:

  1. I love all of this, especially that pinata! My boys would flip out! I think we will definitely be recreating your celebrations at our house next year....probably with chicken--I have no desire to roast a goose, nor do my boys have any desire to eat one :)

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  2. Well, you know I love me some Michaelmas. This is so great, Kendra. The pinata is amazing and we LOVE The Bearskinner! Picked it up by chance at the library the other day and it's so good. Very powerful. Wish we were celebrating together today! Daniel tried to get a goose but they're insanely expensive. Why? He said, "See!? This is why we need a farm! So we can raise our own goose!" Here, here.

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  3. I put the book in my Amazon cart. It sounds awesome! Thanks!
    I remember eating goose a couple of times as a child. I liked it. I hope your family lets you make it one year.
    Your dress and cardigan are just lovely.

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  4. We love that book too! And, your Michaelmas party sounds awesome...I want to go to a party where I get a whole bird on my plate! Fascinating about the blackberries...I've never hard of there before, but I'll keep that in mind and be sure to bypass any blackberries I see from now on.

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  5. Love this post! Our own celebration of Michaelmas will be low-key this year since we just moved last weekend and our own little Michael (1 1/2 years old) has had a rough day. We invited some friends over but they were out of town ... I LOVE the pinata idea and will probably end up stealing it once my boys are old enough to participate! :)

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  6. I haven't come across Bearskinner yet - adding it to the list! Love the pinata and the literary outfit (perfect for finishing up Banned Books Week no?)

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  7. Gotta do this!! Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Fascinating information! We live in the North of England and I've never heard that legend. We have lots of brambles (blackberry bushes) in our garden as well as a few apple trees so I always make blackberry and apple pie at this time of year. Also, no one here would think you odd if you cooked goose, although it is most common at Christmastime.

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  9. Sounds fun! I grew up in a St. Michael's parish, so he's always been kind of special to me. I hope you get your goose one year! We made goose the year we spent Christmas in London, and it was delicious - but by far the best part was using the fat to cook the potatoes - amazing!

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  10. Aw, man! I knew I was missing out on a great party! When will someone (other than Saint Pio) master the art of bi-location?!

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  11. THE BOOKS SWEATER. Gah I love it so much, I forgot the rest of the post.

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