A Look at Lammas and Lughnasadh – Two Festivals. One Day.
The heat of summer is at its most intense. The fields are rich with crops. Yet, there’s the knowledge that the days are gradually getting shorter and the sun’s force weakening. Time, then, for not one festival, but two.
Lammas and Lughnasadh both fall on August 1. As a result, they are often mentioned together. But, on closer inspection, each can be found to commemorate something slightly different.
Below, I take a closer look at each festival before giving you ways you can mark this important time of year.
Why celebrate now?
For those in the Northern Hemisphere, late July and early August is the height of summer, where the sun’s power is felt even more so than at the end of June during Midsummer. It’s a time when many choose to take their summer vacation. As I detail in my book, Sacred Ceremonies,
‘These are known as the “dog days” because the “dog star” Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) is now rising and setting with the sun and will do so from mid-July and September. With the heat comes slightly shorter days and longer nights, as well as the time of the first grain harvest.’
Lammas and the harvest
This first grain of the harvest provides the reason for celebrating Lammas. The name translates to loaf mass and the festival entails baking bread using the early grains of the year’s harvest.
It’s high summer, the heat having generated an abundance of crops. We mark the harvesting of the first grain by using it to make the first loaf of bread of the season, paying homage to the Goddess—Harvest Mother and Queen—who represents the ripening and readiness of the harvest.
It’s a time to celebrate the abundance that will feed us for the next few months, but also to recognize that within this harvest lies the seed for future harvests. Seed that when planted in the ground will grow next year’s crops and signify rebirth and regeneration.
Lughnasadh and the Irish God
On the same day, many celebrate Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-na-sa). The name derives from the Irish God Lugh, a beautiful and eternally youthful Sun God and God of Grain whose name means “Bright or Shining One.” Lugh’s purpose was to ensure the sun stayed under control and didn’t grow too big or strong and threaten people on Earth. Of course, at this time of year, there are the first signs that the sun’s power is fading, making it the ideal time to celebrate and commemorate Lugh.
Festivities in his honour focus on games and competitive sports, essential to maintain the strength and vitality of people at harvest time, a busy and physically demanding time of year. As I outline in Sacred Ceremonies, Lughnasadh:
‘…also marks the death of Bel, the Corn King. During the festivals, corncake’s were made in the shape of the Corn King’s body, and consumed along with ale made from the first crop of corn. This was a ceremony to honour the King who gave his life so that the people could have food—an early Communion ritual.’
Commemorating Lammas / Lughnasadh
With no secular holidays during this season, there’s no hard and fast way to celebrate this holiday. However, many choose to take a vacation at this time of year, as I point out in Sacred Ceremonies:
It’s a playful time, so a vacation during this season is congruent with the theme of ancient festivals. The key here is to get outdoors and be active, since we’re still enjoying the residual heat of summer, in spite of the barely discernible shorter days.
Bake and break bread
Lammas’ clear links with the first grain of the harvest season make celebrating with freshly baked bread a good way to commemorate this time of year. Of course, bread is widely available all year round, so for distinction, perhaps make a special effort to bake your own loaves. And be sure to invite friends and family to share the eating of the bread, ensuring they arrive just as the wonderful aroma wafts from the oven! Then enjoy the occasion with an impressive spread including butter, honey, and jams, to eat with the fresh-baked bread and honor the occasion.
To take the celebration a stage further, forming a circle and feeding each other is a great way of showing the importance of giving and receiving at this time of year:
You create the sacred circle, and the host explains the purpose of this part of the ceremony, that the joy in giving and receiving are the same. Sharing food is the most elemental and basic way of giving and receiving. The guests are then asked to close their eyes and imagine they haven’t eaten for a couple of days. As this idea sets in, the host turns to the person on their left and feeds them, slowly and deliberately. The task of the recipient is to receive very slowly and chew very slowly, savoring each bite with gratitude. The person who first received the food, then turns to the person on their left, and does the same. This proceeds around the circle until everyone has had a chance to experience it.
The themes of community and outdoors run through both the Lammas and Lughnasadh celebrations. It’s a time to enjoy each other’s company, perhaps on a vacation, and to make the most of the warmth when outside. Enjoy the fruits of the first harvest too. Mark the importance of giving and receiving and, of course, break some bread to give thanks for the abundance that’s everywhere this time of year.