Goose at Michaelmas
One legend says that St. Martin was tormented by a goose which he killed and ate. As he died from the repast, good Christians have ever since sacrificed the goose on the day of the saint.
The popular tradition is that Queen Elizabeth, on her way to Tilbury Fort (September 29th, 1588), dined at the ancient seat of Sir Neville Umfreyville, where, among other things, two fine geese were provided for dinner. The queen, having eaten heartily, called for a bumper of Burgundy; and gave as a toast, “Destruction to the Spanish Armada!” Scarcely had she spoken when a messenger announced the destruction of the fleet by a storm. The queen demanded a second bumper, and said, “Henceforth shall a goose commemorate this great victory.” This tale is marred by the awkward circumstance that the thanksgiving sermon for the victory was preached at St. Paul's on the 20th August, and the fleet was dispersed by the winds in July. Gascoigne, who died 1577, refers to the custom of goose-eating at Michaelmas as common.
At Christmas a capon, at Michaelmas a goose, And somewhat else at New Yere's tide, for feare the lease flies loose.
At Michaelmas time stubble-geese are in perfection, and tenants formerly presented their landlords with one to keep in their good graces.
Although geese were served at table in Michaelmas time, before the destruction of the Armada, still they commemorate that event. So there were doubtless rainbows before the Flood, yet God made the rainbow the token of His promise not to send another Flood upon the world.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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