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Michaelmas goose


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In past centuries, the traditional connection between Michaelmas and the goose was as strong as it is today between Christmas and the turkey. Everybody who could afford to ate a goose on St Michael's Day (29 September), and had probably been doing so since at least the 15th century:1471 A certain John de la Hay was bound to give William Barnaby, Lord of Lastres, Herefordshire, for a parcel of demesne lands, one goose fit for the lord's dinner on the feast of St Michael. (N&Q 3s:4 (1863), 400)

1471 A certain John de la Hay was bound to give William Barnaby, Lord of Lastres, Herefordshire, for a parcel of demesne lands, one goose fit for the lord's dinner on the feast of St Michael. (N&Q 3s:4 (1863), 400)

It was not uncommon for such stipulated gifts of seasonal food to be included in manorial tenancy agreements and as Michaelmas was a Quarter Day when rents were normally paid, and geese were in their prime at that season, this would have helped to perpetuate the custom.

A historical legend seeks to explain the connection between bird and day: Queen Elizabeth I was eating a goose on Michaelmas Day 1588 when she heard of the defeat of the Armada. She therefore declared that everyone should do so every year to commemorate the great victory. Unfortunately for the legend, it can be seen that the connection antedates the Armada by at least 100 years, and anyway that victory was in August.

Wright and Lones, 1940: iii. 81–4;Brand, 1849: i. 367–71.


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