Updated: Jul 22, 2021
“After Lammas Day,
corn ripens as much by night as by day.”
Once again the Wheel of the Year has turned and it is now Lammas, the halfway point between Litha (the summer solstice) and Mabon (the fall equinox). Traditionally celebrated on August 1st in the Northern Hemisphere (February 1st in the Southern), it is the first of three harvest Sabbats. The hot days of August are in full swing and fields are laden with opulence. Apples are beginning to plump up and ripen in the trees and our vegetable gardens are overflowing. The late summer grain crops, specifically wheat, oat and corn grains, are ready for harvesting.
It is a time for gathering and giving thanks for abundance.
Back in the day, grain was the difference between life and death. If it was not tended to properly, left in the field too long, or not baked in time, it meant starvation during the colder seasons.
In early Ireland, the first sheaves of grain were ceremoniously cut down on Lammas (not before), and by nightfall the first loaves of bread for the season would have been baked and shared by the community in thanks. For many cultures, the breaking of bread is symbolic of peace and hospitality.
In many societies the cutting of the final sheaf of grain, was just as important as the first, and people celebrated by making corn dolls symbolizing the spirit of the grain. Sometimes these dolls were the size of a full-grown man composed of the very last stalks of corn, and decorated with ribbons, streamers and even articles of clothing.
In nearly every ancient culture, both by Christians and pagans, Lammas was a celebration focused on agriculture. The first loaves of bread made from the initial harvest’s grains, were often blessed by the Church. Despite many of the traditions coming from pagan origins, the word “lammas” comes from the Old English phrase: “hlaf-maesse”, meaning “loaf-mass”. The term “loaf-mass” has been contorted over the years in both spelling and pronunciation – the result is ‘Lammas’. While some Christian communities still observe the “blessing of the loaves”, it is a rare and dying tradition.
To the Celts it was more than a harvest festival. They referred to Lammas as Lughnasad to honor Lugh, the Celtic Sun King, the god of light and craftsmanship. Aside from being an exceptional warrior, he was skilled in both blacksmithing and wheel-making.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to why Lugh is honored on this day. Some claim it was his wedding day to the Earth goddess. Others say August was was the month in which he honoured his mother Tailtiu. Whichever, the Celts prepared a fair behold, filled with markets, games, feasting, and bonfires.
The magic of this season is in the grain harvest itself. There is food to feed the community through the winter yet within that which we gathered, lies the very seed for the regeneration of next year’s harvest.
This is the bittersweet turn of the Wheel. All life is cyclical, living and dying within its season; only to be reborn. We plant, we grow, we harvest, we die – repeat.
Today Lammas is commemorated through the preparation of a feast using the late summer crops of our own garden like beans and squash. We still celebrate by baking and breaking bread with gathered friends and families. But there is so much more you can do:
Decorate your home with symbols of the season including dried grains such as sheafs of wheat
Use the colours of Lammas – green, gold, yellow, orange
Make a corn doll using dried husks and ribbons of green and gold
Place calendula and marigold flowerpots both in and outside your home.
Make crafts in honour of the Sun King Lugh
Collect seeds for next year’s harvest – allow to dry in the sun (they make terrific homemade gifts for Samhain and Yule)
Give thanks and celebrate as a community
Don’t forget to include the children in your rituals
Celebrating Lammas means honoring our ancestors in recognition of their hard work to simply survive. This is a propitious time to give thanks for the abundance we have in our lives, and to be grateful for the food on our tables.