Watch out for pink glow of Harvest Moon

'Michaelmas daisies, among dead weeds, bloom for St Michael's valorous deeds'
'Michaelmas daisies, among dead weeds, bloom for St Michael's valorous deeds'

The full moon nearest to today’s autumn equinox is the Harvest Moon, and this year it promises to be even more beautiful than usual.

In the early hours of the 28th the full moon will pass through the earth’s shadow, giving its face a rosy pink glow. Or it could be blushing red – the only way to know for sure is to watch.

Like Christmas, Michaelmas had a traditional, set-piece dinner

This is one for the owls amongst us, as the period of full lunar eclipse lasts from just after 3am to 4.20am.

In the evening we’ll see the lovely Harvest Moon rising as the sun goes down. Every full moon does this, and on each night following it rises about 50 minutes later. But the full moon nearest the equinox is a bit different.

Because it is rising further north along the eastern horizon, the just-past-full Harvest Moon comes up sooner. So, clouds permitting, there are several days of moonlight from dusk till dawn, which was a tremendous boon to harvest workers in the past. Although the shadows were stark, there was more than enough light to carry on the important work of bringing in the harvest.

Lost festival

September 29 is the feast day of St Michael, who led the heavenly battle against Lucifer and threw him out of Heaven. Hundreds of British churches, usually sited on hilltops, are dedicated to the archangel. An old rhyme tells us that those lovely asters known as Michaelmas daisies flower now in St Michael’s honour.

For around 500 years, until the early twentieth century, Michaelmas was a huge festival. It’s an old Quarter day when servants and farm workers sought new employers, new magistrates were elected, rents and other debts were paid, and surplus farm animals were sold at Michaelmas fairs.

Today it’s still an important time for selling livestock, especially sheep. This is when hill farmers sell hardy breeding stock to lowland farmers. But apart from some old colleges that use the name for their autumn term, Michaelmas goes by mostly unnoticed. That’s why there’s a ‘celebration gap’ between the end of summer and the festive season — the modern Halloween tries to fill it, but a commercial ghoul fest can never be as inclusive.

Like Christmas, Michaelmas had a traditional, set-piece dinner. Families ate roast goose stuffed with the season’s new apples; the birds were at their tastiest after feeding in the stubble fields on fallen grain. It was also believed to be lucky – if you ate goose on Michaelmas Day, you wouldn’t be short of money all year.

According to weather lore a fine Michaelmas Day heralds two or three weeks of decent weather. It’s also a wind prediction day. Whichever way the wind blows on September 29 that will be the prevailing direction for the next three months.

When Lucifer fell from Heaven he landed on earth in a thorny bramble thicket, and every year since he’s returned at Michaelmas to trample and spit on the blackberries. So if you haven’t picked any yet, better hurry. Blackberries become watery after a frost, and clear autumn nights are when frosts begin.