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The Mystery of St. Michael's Day

Every October there is an Amish religious "holiday" that often catches we non-Amish by surprise. Amish businesses are closed, and farmers are not seen working in the fields. The day is called St. Michaelís Day, and is usually observed by the Amish on October 11. For the Amish, most of whom probably know very little about Michael, it is a day of rest and fasting (usually breakfast) prior to the upcoming Communion service.

St. Michaelís Day is celebrated in the Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican churches on September 29th, and in the Greek church on November 8. The different dates have to do with changes from the Roman to the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

So, who is St. Michael? As one of the seven archangels named in the Old Testament, he is mentioned in the book of Daniel as a "great prince" and protector of Godís people. Icons of Michael in other churches often depict him as a young warrior, dressed in armor. This is because he is also mentioned in the New Testament book of Revelation, Chapter 12, when he leads the angels in a heavenly fight against the devil. Not surprisingly, in the Middle Ages we find Michael was the patron saint of knights.

The Catholic church believed Michael to be the one "designated to lead the souls of Christians to Godís judgment seat," and he was considered the patron of the Germans, "der deutsche Michel."

In England and other countries, St. Michaelís Day was also one of the quarter days when rents and bills come due yearly. When observed as a feast day, "Michaelmas" was celebrated with a meal of roast goose, a custom started hundreds of years ago when people included a goose in their rent payments to landlords. As an English proverb says, "If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day, you will never want for money all the year round."

But how did the Amish come to "observe" the day of a Catholic saint? In the old days in Europe, many of the Amish and Mennonites were tenant farmers. Much of the land was owned by the church or aristocrats. Farmers paid a percent of their profits to the landholder every year. The date set by the churches and monasteries in Germany for the farmers to pay their tax was St. Michaelís Day, October 11th. This date fell after the harvest, when the profits and resulting tax could be most accurately assessed.

Today, most of the Amish probably couldnít even tell you who St. Michael is, or why his day was chosen for fasting and resting. Yet it remains a special day for them, as it was for their ancestors, even if the reason for its observance has changed. It is an example of an old custom that has continued to survive simply because it has become a tradition.

Amish Country News Article by Brad Igou

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