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

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 , 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.

If you're looking for a less giant/complex option, we've also used the newer version in the upper photo, available as a DIY in the CAY shop.

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)

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!


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!