‘Tis three months from the Feast of St. Michael to Christmas.

Note: From the Middle Ages to the ninteenth century, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29, was a great holiday. Mayors across Ireland would take office on that day. A messenger from Drogheda would walk to Dublin to tell the Dublin Mayor’s office that the Drogheda mayor had been sworn in. Apparently, it was a custom for the Dublin mayor to be sworn in after the Drogheda mayor.

It was literally a day for a great feast. It was called Fomhar na nGé, the goose harvest, because geese hatched in the spring were now deemed ready for market. So a sumptious goose dinner was the bill of fare for many familes. Others had lamb in deference to an old legend about St. Patrick.

St. Patrick prayed to St. Michael to save the life of Lewey, son of Leary — King of all Ireland, who had taken deathly ill. When Lewey recovered, his grateful mother vowed to sacrifice one sheep from each of her flocks for the poor on behalf of St. Michael. It was called cuid Mhichíl, St. Micheal’s share. Hence, St. Michaels Feast day is a day to feed the poor.

St. Michael’s Feast Day, or Michelmas as the Anglo-Normans called it, was also a day to settle rents for the quarter, an ráithe. If the harvest was good this would not be a problem. On the other hand, if the harvest was bad, and Michelmas passed without paying the rent, eviction would often follow. Michelmas also marked the beginning of the hunting season. If the hunting was good, tenants would be able to pay rent for the next quarter, due around Christmas. Otherwise, it often meant eviction.

Consequently, there is a bright and a dark side to this week’s proverb. On the bright side, it marks two great feast days in the Irish calendar. On the dark side it marks two days when the rent is due. It could either mark feast or frost, i.e., being thrown out into the cold.